Social colony defense in ants

Abstract Social insects build and maintain nests to protect their brood against harsh environmental conditions and against enemies. Even conspecifics (individuals of the same species) from neighboring colonies are potential enemies. Although these individuals are very similar in many respects, they are prevented from entering the nest. The secret behind this amazing discrimination ability that provides colony coherence is called nestmate recognition, and it is based on complex and colony-specific odor blends, carried on the insect’s cuticle. Social interactions among workers unify the colony specific odor and social interactions also modulate the aggressiveness of workers against ants of other colonies.
In an integrative organismal approach, including neurophysiological techniques (Ca-Imaging), molecular tools, and behavioral experiments, we study the underlying mechanisms of odor discrimination, modulation of behavioral responses, and ultimately the resulting complex organization in social insects. Nestmate recognition in ants allows us to explore and eventually to understand how the highly developed olfactory system of social insects, as described for ants and bees, solves in no time an extremely difficult odor discrimination and classification task.

Keywords olfaction, ants' nestmate recognition, aggression, social behavior, self-organization, neurobiology

Main advisor Christoph Kleineidam, University of Konstanz

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