Herringe, CA, Middleton, EJ, Boyd, KC, Latty, T, & White, TE (2022) “Benefits and costs of social foraging in velvet worms” Ethology 128(3):197-206 https://doi.org/10.1111/eth.13256
RESEARCH: Velvet worms are enigmatic and charismatic invertebrates that have long captured the intrigue of researchers. As the only known social living and foraging Onychophoran species, there are many behavioural questions to explore. Our work examined the effect of natural group size and controlled prey size on the latency to attack and begin consuming prey, the likelihood of complete prey consumption and the time taken to completely consume prey, demonstrating the costs and benefits of group living in E. rowelli.
Oberhauser, FB, Middleton, EJT, Latty, T & Czaczkes, TJ (2019) “Meat ants cut more trail shortcuts when facing long detours” Journal of Experimental Biology 222(21) https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.205773
RESEARCH: Meat ants are ubiquitous in the Australian outback and are famous for their distinct trail networks. In this research we demonstrate their ability to clear trails in a directed manner when detour costs around an obstacle are high. Further, meat ants quickly establish cleared trails to food by focusing on a central, vertically aligned trail.
Middleton, EJT, Garnier, S, Latty, T & Reid, CR (2019) “Temporal and spatial pattern of trail clearing in the Australian meat ant, Iridomyrmex purpureus” Animal Behaviour 150:97-111 https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2019.02.006
RESEARCH: Although trail clearing is thought to be beneficial in decreasing travel time, the physical process of clearing requires an investment of time and energy. Given that trail clearing is a decentralized process, how do colonies decide when to invest in clearing? In this study, we examined trail clearing using artificial semipermeable barriers mimicking grass. Meat ants cleared low abundance/low toughness obstacles more than high abundance/high toughness. We further found that the paths were not optimally efficient, however a percolation analysis showed that the ants strategically deployed clearing, taking multiple factors into account when deciding to invest in this strategy. The resultant clearing patterns provided shorter travel routes for foraging ants than would be expected by the random removal of obstacles.
Middleton, EJT, Reid, CR, Mann, RP & Latty, T (2018) “Social and private information influence the decision making of Australian meat ants (Iridomyrmex purpureus) Insectes Sociaux 65(4):649-656 https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-018-0656-1
RESEARCH: For social animals, decision-making is influenced by both social information provided by the group, and private information based on the individual’s personal experience. Social insects make excellent study systems for understanding how social and private information is used by individuals to influence their navigational route choice, and thereby influence the collective decision-making strategy of the group. Our work demonstrated that when individual workers are trained to a rewarding arm in a Y maze, the trained ants use private information (memory) in route choice when social information (trail pheromone) is experimentally removed and have no preference when private information and social information are in direct conflict with each other.
Middleton, EJT & Latty, T (2016) “Resilience in social insect infrastructure systems” Journal of The Royal Society Interface 13 no.116:20151022 https://doi.org/10.1098/rsif.2015.1022
REVIEW: Both human and insect societies depend on complex and highly coordinated infrastructure systems, such as communication networks, supply chains and transportation networks. Like human-designed infrastructure systems, those of social insects are regularly subject to disruptions such as natural disasters, blockages or breaks in the transportation network, fluctuations in supply and/or demand, outbreaks of disease and loss of individuals. Unlike human-designed systems, there is no deliberate planning or centralized control system; rather, individual insects make simple decisions based on local information. In this review, we bring together literature on resilience in three key social insect infrastructure systems: transportation networks, supply chains and communication networks. We describe how systems differentially invest in three pathways to resilience: resistance, redirection or reconstruction. Human infrastructure management might learn from social insect researchers, who can in turn make use of the mature analytical and simulation tools developed for the study of human infrastructure resilience.
Cheng, K, Middleton, EJT & Wehner, R (2012) “Vector-based and landmark-guided navigation in desert ants of the same species inhabiting landmark-free and landmark-rich environments” Journal of Experimental Biology 18: 3169 – 3174 https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.070417
RESEARCH: The central Australian desert ant Melophorus bagoti lives in a visually cluttered semi-arid habitat dotted with grass tussocks, bushes and trees. Previously, it was shown that this species has a higher propensity to switch from vector-based navigation to landmark-guided navigation compared with the North African desert ant Cataglyphis fortis, which usually inhabits a visually bare habitat. Here, we asked whether different colonies of M. bagoti, inhabiting more and less cluttered habitats, show a similar difference. Ants from both kinds of nests were trained to forage from a feeder and were then displaced to a distant test site on the open field. Under these conditions, ants from cluttered habitats switched more readily from vector-based navigation to landmark-guided navigation than ants from the open field. Thus, intraspecific differences caused by the experience of particular landmarks encountered en route, or of particular habitats, influence navigational strategies in addition to previously found interspecific, inherited differences due to the evolutionary history of living in particular habitats.