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Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 255–270 | Cite as

What can ants tell us about collective behavior during a natural catastrophe?

  • Deby Lee Cassill
  • Alexander Casella
  • Jaeson Clayborn
  • Matthew Perry
  • Michael Lagarde
Article

Abstract

The fire ant, Solenipsis invicta, has successfully invaded and colonized ecosystems worldwide. Like humans, fire ants build permanent domiciles to house family members, establish well-defined territories for foraging and fight to the death when invading neighbors breach the borders. One of the more striking behaviors of fire ants is their ability to form a living raft when springtime rains flood their domiciles. What are the survival benefits, if any, to collective behavior during a flood? To address this question, we quantified the survival of individuals as solitary swimmers compared to cooperative rafters. We found that large workers and matriarchs survived equally well as solitary swimmers or rafters. In contrast, small workers drowned whether they were solitary swimmers or rafters. However, when rafting with large workers or matriarchs, the mortality of small workers declined three-fold. We propose a behavior phenotype classification scheme to catalog the diverse behaviors observed in this series of experiments. Although the ultimate goal of rafting behavior by fire ant workers is to protect their matriarch, the proximate goal for the vast majority of fire ants is to save themselves first and to save others if the opportunity arises.

Keywords

Self-organization Division of labor Solenopsis invicta 

JEL Classification

A13 B49 B59 C72 C91 D63 D64 J16 Z13 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank M. Riedinger-Whitmore and two JBIO reviewers, T. Czaczkes and an anonymous individual, for manuscript reviews. We thank I. Miller-Evans for help with the raft experiments and the USF College of Marine Science for the use of liquid nitrogen. Last, we thank Ulrich Witt, Editor of JBIO, for guiding the manuscript through the review process. This study was supported in part by the USF Honor’s Program for Undergraduates.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Deby Lee Cassill
    • 1
  • Alexander Casella
    • 2
  • Jaeson Clayborn
    • 3
  • Matthew Perry
    • 1
  • Michael Lagarde
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of South Florida (USF)St. PetersburgUSA
  2. 2.Undergraduate Honor’s ProgramUniversity of South Florida (USF)TampaUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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