Behavioural responses enable animals to react rapidly to fluctuating environments. In eusocial organisms, such changes are often enacted at the group level, but may be organised in a decentralised fashion by the actions of individuals. However, the contributions of different group members are rarely homogenous, and there is evidence to suggest that certain ‘keystone’ individuals are important in shaping collective responses. Accordingly, investigations of the dynamics and structuring of behavioural changes at both the group and individual level, are crucial for evaluating the relative influence of different individuals. Here, we examine the composition of tandem running behaviour during colony emigrations in the ant species Temnothorax albipennis. Tandem running is modulated in response to emigration distance, with more runs being conducted when a more distant nest site must be reached. We show that certain individuals are highly active in the tandem running process, attempting significantly more work in the task. Contrary to expectations, however, such individuals are in fact no more successful at conducting tandem runs than their less active nest mates. Instead, it seems that when more tandem runs are required, colonies rely on greater recruitment of workers into the process. The implications of our study are that in some cases, even when apparently ‘key’ individuals exist within a group, their relative contribution to task performance may be far from decisive.
- Received June 27, 2016.
- Accepted August 22, 2016.
- © 2016. Published by The Company of Biologists Ltd