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Divergent Circadian Foraging Strategies in Response to Diurnal Predation Versus Persistent Rain in Asian Weaver Ant, Oecophylla smaragdina , Suggest Possible Energetic Trade-offs.

The study of chronobiology of foraging behavior in social insects offers valuable models for the investigation of circadian rhythms. We scored hourly nest entries and exits of Oecophylla smaragdina (Asian weaver ant) workers in 9 active non-polydomous nests on days with and without rain and with and without a primarily diurnal predator present. After determining that Oecophylla display a high nest fidelity, we focused exclusively on analyzing nest entry counts: we found a significant decrease in overall entry counts of individual ants on rainy days compared with non-rainy days ( p  < 0.0001). They usually maintain a typical diurnal pattern of foraging activity; however, that regularity was often distorted during rainy periods but appeared to quickly revert to typical patterns following rain. This lack of compensatory foraging activity following a period of rain supports the hypothesis that these ants have enough food reserves to withstand a pure masking-induced suppression of foraging activity. Predation through bird anting, too, decreased foraging activity but appeared to cause a reversal in foraging activity timing from diurnal to nocturnal foraging. Daily periodicity of foraging was significantly disrupted in most nests during rain; however, daily foraging periodicity was disrupted in only one nest due to presence of predators. Thus, rain and predation both exert significant impacts on the overall foraging activity of Asian weaver ants, but while persistent pressure from rain seemed to primarily cause masking (diminution) of circadian foraging activity, predation restricted to the daytime resulted in phase-inversion to nocturnal foraging activity, with little diminution. This is consistent with different energetic strategies being used in response to different pressures by this species.

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