The non-additive effects of body size on nest architecture in a polymorphic ant

Christina L. Kwapich, Gabriele Valentini, Bert Hölldobler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Like traditional organisms, eusocial insect societies express traits that are the target of natural selection. Variation at the colony level emerges from the combined attributes of thousands of workers and may yield characteristics not predicted from individual phenotypes. By manipulating the ratios of worker types, the basis of complex, colony-level traits can be reduced to the additive and non-additive interactions of their component parts. In this study, we investigated the independent and synergistic effects of body size on nest architecture in a seasonally polymorphic harvester ant, Veromessor pergandei. Using network analysis, we compared wax casts of nests, and found that mixed-size groups built longer nests, excavated more sand and produced greater architectural complexity than single-sized worker groups. The nests built by polymorphic groups were not only larger in absolute terms, but larger than expected based on the combined contributions of both size classes in isolation. In effect, the interactions of different worker types yielded a colony-level trait that was not predicted from the sum of its parts. In nature, V. pergandei colonies with fewer fathers produce smaller workers each summer, and produce more workers annually. Because body size is linked to multiple colony-level traits, our findings demonstrate how selection acting on one characteristic, like mating frequency, could also shape unrelated characteristics, like nest architecture. This article is part of the theme issue ‘Interdisciplinary approaches for uncovering the impacts of architecture on collective behaviour’.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20170235
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1753
StatePublished - Aug 19 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Ant nest architecture
  • Collective behaviour
  • Emergence
  • Network analysis
  • Polymorphism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'The non-additive effects of body size on nest architecture in a polymorphic ant'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this