Evol Ecol Res 1: 537-548 (1999)     Full PDF if your library subscribes.

The emergence of division of labour in forced associations of normally solitary ant queens

Jennifer H. Fewell1* and Robert E. Page Jr2

1Department of Zoology, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-1501 and 2Department of Entomology, University of California, Davis, CA 95616, USA

Author to whom all correspondence should be addressed.
e-mail: j.fewell@asu.edu


We tested the hypothesis that division of labour is an inescapable property of social groups, rather than an evolutionary event separate from sociality. We propose a variance-based emergent property model in which division of labour can spontaneously emerge when (1) individuals in a group vary in their intrinsic sensitivity to stimuli for a given task, and (2) the performance of a task by individuals with higher task sensitivities reduces performance of the task by the other group members. Under these conditions, the individuals with higher sensitivity become the task specialists. To determine if division of labour can occur in the absence of direct selection, we created artificial foundress associations (groups of queens during nest establishment) of the ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus, which has no history of cooperative colony founding. We compared the incidence of task specialization in this species to that in Pogonomyrmex californicus, in which foundress associations commonly occur. Levels of task specialization for nest excavation were high in both species, arguing that division of labour emerges in groups regardless of evolutionary history. Consistent with the variance-based model, the role of nest excavation specialist in P. barbatus foundress associations could be predicted by both (1) differences in excavation roles in prior pairs and (2) variation in excavation activity while solitary. Furthermore, the assumption of the excavator role by one foundress dramatically reduced the performance of that task by the other foundress of the pair. We also found a strong negative relationship between excavation activity and foundress survival in P. barbatus, suggesting that division of labour in this context may act as a constraint on social evolution.

Keywords: division of labour, emergent properties, foundress associations, Pogonomyrmex barbatus, self-organization, social insects, task specialization.

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        © 1999 Jennifer H. Fewell. All EER articles are copyrighted by their authors. All authors endorse, permit and license Evolutionary Ecology Ltd. to grant its subscribing institutions/libraries the copying privileges specified below without additional consideration or payment to them or to Evolutionary Ecology, Ltd. These endorsements, in writing, are on file in the office of Evolutionary Ecology, Ltd. Consult authors for permission to use any portion of their work in derivative works, compilations or to distribute their work in any commercial manner.

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