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Division of labor increases with colony size in the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus


  • C. Tate Holbrook
  • Phillip M. Barden
  • Jennifer H. Fewell


Size has profound consequences for the structure and function of biological systems, across levels of organization from cells to social groups. As tightly integrated units that vary greatly in size, eusocial insect colonies, in particular, are expected to exhibit social scaling relations. To address the question of how social organization scales with colony size, we quantified task performance in variably sized colonies of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus. We found a positive scaling relationship between colony size and division of labor in 2 different contexts. First, individual workers were more specialized in older, larger colonies. Second, division of labor increased with colony size, independently of colony age. Moreover, the proportional allocation of workers to tasks shifted during colony ontogeny--older, larger colonies performed relatively less brood care--but did not vary with colony size among same-aged colonies. There were no colony-size effects on per capita activity or the distribution of activity across workers. Size-related changes in task performance were correlated with changes in the rate of encounter between nest mates. These results highlight the importance of colony size for the organization of work in insect societies and raise broader questions about the role of size in sociobiology. Copyright 2011, Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • C. Tate Holbrook & Phillip M. Barden & Jennifer H. Fewell, 2011. "Division of labor increases with colony size in the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus," Behavioral Ecology, International Society for Behavioral Ecology, vol. 22(5), pages 960-966.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:beheco:v:22:y:2011:i:5:p:960-966

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