A Convenient Trip: an Analysis of the Impact of Hitchhiker Ants on Forager Transport Rates
During foraging, leaf-cutting ant workers of different size classes perform various tasks along foraging trails. Commonly, small workers called hitchhikers climb on leaf fragments imposing an extra transport cost, so their presence is thought to reduce the individual foraging performance. There are four main hypotheses which may explain the occurrence of hitchhikers and a different behavioral act related to their role can be predicted for each. Hitchhiker behavior was observed considering these hypotheses and the effect of the hitchhikers on the walking speed and transport rate of foragers was evaluated. The behavioral registers were obtained from 1371 hitchhikers on foraging trails of Acromyrmex subterraneus subterraneus nests in the field. To verify the influence of hitchhikers on walking speed and transport rate, 239 foragers with hitchhikers and 250 foragers transporting only leaf fragments were analyzed. The walking speed, burden and transport rate of each forager were calculated. Data indicated not only that hitchhikers are vigilant but that they remain motionless on the leaf fragment probably in order to reduce the impact of their presence for the loaded forager. The impact of their presence is verified through walking speed reduction but as they ride preferentially on larger workers who transport larger leaf fragments, there are no losses in the individual transport rate. The transporter selection made by the hitchhiker ensures at the same time enhanced protection against phorid parasitoids and the maintenance of the leaf transport rate.
KeywordsLeaf-cutting ants behavioral acts walking speed foraging
From I.N. Hastenreiter, T.A.Sales and L.F.Ribeiro thanks go to Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES) and Pró-Reitoria de Pesquisa (Propesq) – UFJF for a grant. From J.F.S. Lopes thanks go to Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) for grant and financial support (307335/2009-7 and 569962/2008-0). The authors thank Dr. Kleber Del-Claro and two anonymous reviewers whose comments improved the manuscript, Dr. Vincent Fourcassié and Dra. Jane Azevedo da Silva for statistical analysis advice.
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