Nick Bos, Lena Grinsted, Luke Holman
PLoS ONE 6(4): e19435. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019435
In insects, pheromones allow for males to find conspecific mates. For social insects, this is extended to the ability to recognize nest mates. While mate recognition would be, by necessity, tightly linked to the genes, nest mate recognition could be much more plastic. In social insects, the workers are usually related to the queen but in some species, multiple queens inhabit a nest. The pheromones released by an ant represents a label identifying it as a member of the colony. Also, the ant possesses a neural template that allows recognition of nest mates. All ants ‘smell’ the same in the colony, yet there are developmental differences between them and in some cases genetic differences. The individual’s pheromone mixture is constantly being remodeled as the colony changes, along with the recognition template. Thus it is the colony smell that is recognized rather than the individual. How is this done? The authors show that for certain ants, it is the soil of the colony that holds the blend and that it is contact with this soil that sets both the label and the template for the individual. I am wondering about the underlying neural structure of this. If both the label and the template need continual restructuring then there must be only a short term memory for nest mate recognition as opposed to mate recognition which would be hardwired. In addition there must be separate receptors for soil recognition (repatterning) vs nest mate recognition. It has been stated by Mary West-Eberhard that forgetting is just as important a concept in behavior as remembering and this seems like a concrete example.
Joël Meunier, Olivier Delémont, Christophe Lucas
PLoS ONE 6(5): e19347. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0019347