Dynamics of Nest Excavation and Nest Size Regulation of Lasius niger (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

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The adaptation of nest size to its population is one of the most common processes, but little is known about the dynamics nest-building and -enlarging in social context. Furthermore, the mechanisms involved remain totally ignored. We present here the first results of such dynamics in the context of Lasius niger's nest excavation. We find, with an artificial but standardized method, a strong positive correlation between the number of ants and the final nest volume as well as the digging rate. Both grow almost proportionally to population. When the number of individuals is artificially increased (even slightly) in a nest, its dimension is systematically adjusted in the same way as initial excavation. In this process, digging acts as a negative feedback that controls nest enlargement. Experiments revealed that this negative control is due directly to the volume of the nest as well as the physiological or behavioral modification of ants after digging. Finally, amplification of activity was observed during the enlargement phase, suggesting the possible implication of self-organized processes in the volume control mechanism.

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