A host of animals build architectural constructions. Such constructions frequently vary with environmental and individual/colony conditions, and their architecture directly influences behavior and fitness. The nests of ant colonies drive and enable many of their collective behaviors, and as such are part of their ‘extended phenotype’. Since ant colonies have been recently shown to differ in behavior and life history strategy, we ask whether colonies differ in another trait: the architecture of the constructions they create. We allowed Temnothorax rugatulus rock ants, who create nests by building walls within narrow rock gaps, to repeatedly build nest walls in a fixed crevice but under two environmental conditions. We find that colonies consistently differ in their architecture across environments and over nest building events. Colony identity explained 12–40% of the variation in nest architecture, while colony properties and environmental conditions explained 5–20%, as indicated by the condition and marginal R2 values. When their nest boxes were covered, which produced higher humidity and lower airflow, colonies built thicker, longer, and heavier walls. Colonies also built more robust walls when they had more brood, suggesting a protective function of wall thickness. This is, to our knowledge, the first study to explicitly investigate the repeatability of nestbuilding behavior in a controlled environment. Our results suggest that colonies may face tradeoffs, perhaps between factors such as active vs. passive nest defense, and that selection may act on individual construction rules as a mechanisms to mediate colony-level behavior.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)