Finding food: outbound searching behavior in the Australian desert ant Melophorus bagoti

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Abstract

Foragers of Melophorus bagoti often return to previously rewarding sites to search for more food items. They are opportunistic scavengers that exploit both protein and carbohydrate food sources. Under natural foraging conditions, protein food items are distributed sparsely and randomly, whereas carbohydrates come in patches that are often renewable. This makes for vastly different foraging scenarios that a single forager is confronted with. In theory, foraging performance can be greatly improved if foragers are able to adjust their strategy to different food item distributions. This could be achieved through individual foraging experience or by employing pre-existing, intrinsic foraging strategies. We investigated this by offering both kinds of food with the same distribution: as a renewable food source at a fixed location. After removal of the food source, outbound foragers displayed an area-restricted search centered on its location. Searches for protein had a greater spread than those for carbohydrates, which matches the natural distribution pattern of these food types. However, searches for both kinds of food follow the same general strategy, which is best described as a Brownian-like walk. We suggest that the observed adaptive behavior is a result of differential learning effort.

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