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Copy when uncertain: lower light levels increase trail pheromone deposition and reliance on pheromone trails in ants

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posted on 2023-06-09, 18:38 authored by Sam Jones, Tomer J Czaczkes, Alan J Gallager, Felix B Oberhauser, Ewan Gourlay, Jonathan Bacon
Animals may gather information from multiple sources, and these information sources may conflict. Theory predicts that, all else being equal, reliance on a particular information source will depend on its information content relative to other sources. Information conflicts are a good area in which to test such predictions. Social insects, such as ants, make extensive use of both private information (e.g. visual route memories) and social information (e.g. pheromone trails) when attempting to locate a food source. Importantly, eusocial insects collaborate on food retrieval, so both information use and information provision may be expected to vary with the information content of alternative information sources. Many ants, such as Lasius niger, are active both day and night. Variation in light levels represents an ecologically important change in the information content of visually-acquired route information. Here, we examine information use and information provision under high light levels (3200 lux, equivalent to a bright but overcast day), moderate light levels simulating dusk (10 lux) and darkness (0.007 lux, equivalent to a moonless night). Ants learn poorly, or not at all, in darkness. As light levels decrease, ants show decreasing reliance on private visual information, and a stronger reliance on social information, consistent with a ‘copy when uncertain’ strategy. In moderate light levels and darkness, pheromone deposition increases, presumably to compensate for the low information content of visual information. Varying light levels for cathemeral animals provides a powerful and ecologically meaningful method for examining information use and provision under varying levels of information content.


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Animal Behaviour







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