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French scientist wins the Journal of Experimental Biology Outstanding Paper Prize
Date:11/27/2008

Realising that the colony's behaviour had changed significantly when the ravenous larvae started arriving, Dussutour and Simpson manipulated the colonies' populations by adding either adults or larvae to see how the foragers responded. They found that increasing the numbers of adults didn't alter the foragers' behaviour at all. However, it was a different matter when they doubled the number of larvae. This time the colonies sent out legions of foragers to meet the colonies' demands.

But why do the foragers respond so strongly when there are young in the nest? Simpson explains that the foragers respond to the demands of the individuals that have the highest metabolic requirements, which are the fast-growing larvae. He explains that there must be a feedback mechanism from the larvae via the nurse ants that keep them supplied. If the sugar solution is dilute, the young need to consume more so the nurses somehow recruit more foragers to satisfy the youngsters' hunger. However, when the foragers hit on a rich supply, even the voracious larvae eventually fill up, leaving the nurses with more sugar solution than they need, taking the pressure off the hard-worked foragers. 'The colony is like a super mouth and gut' says Simpson.

So what next for Dussutour? Having come to the end of her postdoctoral fellowship in Simpson's lab, Dussutour is preparing to return to her first love, ant traffic management, back in Toulouse where she has been awarded a prestigious CNRS position. Simpson admits that he is 'very proud and very sad to lose her, but it has been a terrific couple of years,' and he is looking forward to continuing their collaboration when she has students and postdocs of her own.


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Contact: Kathryn Phillips
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Source:Eurekalert

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