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Efficiency and regulation of teaching under environmental constaints (Teaching in ants)
Start date: Jan 23, 2012, End date: Apr 30, 2014 PROJECT  FINISHED 

In many animal species, individuals acquire information from others. Until recently, however, there was no evidence for teaching in non-human animals. Now teaching has been shown in a small but diverse group of animals, all of them social. Teaching, according to the definition that is well established in evolutionary biology, must incur a cost or provide no immediate benefit to the experienced individual, i.e. the leader. This raises the question under what conditions does teaching evolve? Sociality is shaped by selection that operates, in part, at the family or colony level. Thus the leader incurs a cost and/or has no immediate benefit, but teaching will be beneficial at the colony level. Recent studies suggest that under a constantly changing environment (e.g. food supply) there will not necessarily be a direct link between an increase in individual performance after information transfer and collective energy gain of the colony. I will examine the effect of spatial and temporal availability of food on the benefits and costs of teaching at the individual and colony level of the tandem running ant Temnothorax albipennis. T. albipennis can forage towards a goal such as food, by two main strategies: (1) foraging alone, (2) teaching by tandem running, i.e., a leader teaches a naïve follower. In the second case there is strong bi-directional feedback of information between leader and follower. I will focus on the interactions during tandem running and assess the proportion of individuals and time allocated to tandem running for food. In ants there is a high level of communication between leaders and followers, which will provide insight into the increase in efficiency that accrues from teaching at an extremely fine scale.
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