University of Sussex
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Caste and task allocation in ants

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posted on 2023-06-09, 03:14 authored by Victoria Catherine Norman
Group living is a widely adopted strategy by many organisms and given the advantages offered by a social lifestyle, such as increased protection from predators or increased ability for resource exploitation, a wide variety of animals have adopted a social lifestyle. Arguably none have done this more successfully than the social insects. Indeed their efficient division of labour is often cited as a key attribute for the remarkable ecological and evolutionary success of these societies. Within the social insects the most obvious division of labour is reproductive, in which one or a few individuals monopolise reproduction while the majority of essentially sterile workers carry out the remaining tasks essential for colony survival. In almost all social insects, in particular ants, the age of a worker will predispose it to certain tasks, and in some social insects the workers vary in size such that task is associated with worker morphology. In this thesis I explore the proximate and ultimate causes of worker and reproductive division of labour in ant societies, which span a range of social complexities. I predominantly focus on both the highly derived leaf-cutting ants – a so-called ‘pinnacle’ of evolution within the social insects, with a complex division of labour and a strong worker caste system – and in the more basal primitive societies of the queenless ponerine dinosaur ants, which can offer an insight in to the evolution of division of labour at the earliest stages of social lifestyles. This work demonstrates the environmental and genetic determinants of division of labour in group-living societies outside of the classical honey bee model system. This is important as it helps us to better understand the broader processes shaping behaviour and phenotype in the animal kingdom.


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