Allometric scaling of foraging rate with trail dimensions in leaf-cutting ants

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Leaf-cutting ants (Atta spp.) create physical pathways to support the transport of resources on which colony growth and reproduction depend. We determined the scaling relationship between the rate of resource acquisition and the size of the trail system and foraging workforce for 18 colonies of Atta colombica and Atta cephalotes. We examined conventional power-law scaling patterns, but did so in a multivariate analysis that reveals the simultaneous effects of forager number, trail length and trail width. Foraging rate (number of resource-laden ants returning to the nest per unit time) scaled at the 0.93 power of worker numbers, the -1.02 power of total trail length and the 0.65 power of trail width. These scaling exponents indicate that individual performance declines only slightly as more foragers are recruited to the workforce, but that trail length imposes a severe penalty on the foraging rate. A model of mass traffic flow predicts the allometric patterns for workforce and trail length, although the effect of trail width is unexpected and points to the importance of the little-known mechanisms that regulate a colony s investment in trail clearance. These results provide a point of comparison for the role that resource flows may play in allometric scaling patterns in other transport-dependent entities, such as human cities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2442 - 2447
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1737
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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