Current Research and Scholarly Interests

Professor Deborah M Gordon studies the evolutionary ecology of collective behavior. Ant colonies operate without central control, using local interactions to regulate colony behavior.

2016-17 Courses

Stanford Advisees

Graduate and Fellowship Programs

  • Biology (School of Humanities and Sciences) (Phd Program)

All Publications

  • Distributed nestmate recognition in ants PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES Esponda, F., Gordon, D. M. 2015; 282 (1806)


    We propose a distributed model of nestmate recognition, analogous to the one used by the vertebrate immune system, in which colony response results from the diverse reactions of many ants. The model describes how individual behaviour produces colony response to non-nestmates. No single ant knows the odour identity of the colony. Instead, colony identity is defined collectively by all the ants in the colony. Each ant responds to the odour of other ants by reference to its own unique decision boundary, which is a result of its experience of encounters with other ants. Each ant thus recognizes a particular set of chemical profiles as being those of non-nestmates. This model predicts, as experimental results have shown, that the outcome of behavioural assays is likely to be variable, that it depends on the number of ants tested, that response to non-nestmates changes over time and that it changes in response to the experience of individual ants. A distributed system allows a colony to identify non-nestmates without requiring that all individuals have the same complete information and helps to facilitate the tracking of changes in cuticular hydrocarbon profiles, because only a subset of ants must respond to provide an adequate response.

    View details for DOI 10.1098/rspb.2014.2838

    View details for Web of Science ID 000353351000007

    View details for PubMedID 25833853

  • The ecology of collective behaviour PLoS Biology Gordon, D. M. 2014

    View details for DOI 10.1371/1001805

  • The rewards of restraint in the collective regulation of foraging by harvester ant colonies NATURE Gordon, D. M. 2013; 498 (7452): 91-?


    Collective behaviour, arising from local interactions, allows groups to respond to changing conditions. Long-term studies have shown that the traits of individual mammals and birds are associated with their reproductive success, but little is known about the evolutionary ecology of collective behaviour in natural populations. An ant colony operates without central control, regulating its activity through a network of local interactions. This work shows that variation among harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) colonies in collective response to changing conditions is related to variation in colony lifetime reproductive success in the production of offspring colonies. Desiccation costs are high for harvester ants foraging in the desert. More successful colonies tend to forage less when conditions are dry, and show relatively stable foraging activity when conditions are more humid. Restraint from foraging does not compromise a colony's long-term survival; colonies that fail to forage at all on many days survive as long, over the colony's 20-30-year lifespan, as those that forage more regularly. Sensitivity to conditions in which to reduce foraging activity may be transmissible from parent to offspring colony. These results indicate that natural selection is shaping the collective behaviour that regulates foraging activity, and that the selection pressure, related to climate, may grow stronger if the current drought in their habitat persists.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nature12137

    View details for Web of Science ID 000319947800039

    View details for PubMedID 23676676

  • Context-dependent expression of the foraging gene in field colonies of ants: the interacting roles of age, environment and task. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society Ingram, K. K., Gordon, D. M., Friedman, D. A., Greene, M., Kahler, J., Peteru, S. 2016; 283 (1837)


    Task allocation among social insect workers is an ideal framework for studying the molecular mechanisms underlying behavioural plasticity because workers of similar genotype adopt different behavioural phenotypes. Elegant laboratory studies have pioneered this effort, but field studies involving the genetic regulation of task allocation are rare. Here, we investigate the expression of the foraging gene in harvester ant workers from five age- and task-related groups in a natural population, and we experimentally test how exposure to light affects foraging expression in brood workers and foragers. Results from our field study show that the regulation of the foraging gene in harvester ants occurs at two time scales: levels of foraging mRNA are associated with ontogenetic changes over weeks in worker age, location and task, and there are significant daily oscillations in foraging expression in foragers. The temporal dissection of foraging expression reveals that gene expression changes in foragers occur across a scale of hours and the level of expression is predicted by activity rhythms: foragers have high levels of foraging mRNA during daylight hours when they are most active outside the nests. In the experimental study, we find complex interactions in foraging expression between task behaviour and light exposure. Oscillations occur in foragers following experimental exposure to 13 L : 11 D (LD) conditions, but not in brood workers under similar conditions. No significant differences were seen in foraging expression over time in either task in 24 h dark (DD) conditions. Interestingly, the expression of foraging in both undisturbed field and experimentally treated foragers is also significantly correlated with the expression of the circadian clock gene, cycle Our results provide evidence that the regulation of this gene is context-dependent and associated with both ontogenetic and daily behavioural plasticity in field colonies of harvester ants. Our results underscore the importance of assaying temporal patterns in behavioural gene expression and suggest that gene regulation is an integral mechanism associated with behavioural plasticity in harvester ants.

    View details for DOI 10.1098/rspb.2016.0841

    View details for PubMedID 27581876

  • From division of labor to the collective behavior of social insects BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY AND SOCIOBIOLOGY Gordon, D. M. 2016; 70 (7): 1101-1108
  • Ant Genetics: Reproductive Physiology, Worker Morphology, and Behavior ANNUAL REVIEW OF NEUROSCIENCE, VOL 39 Friedman, D. A., Gordon, D. M. 2016; 39: 41-56


    Many exciting studies have begun to elucidate the genetics of the morphological and physiological diversity of ants, but as yet few studies have investigated the genetics of ant behavior directly. Ant genomes are marked by extreme rates of gene turnover, especially in gene families related to olfactory communication, such as the synthesis of cuticular hydrocarbons and the perception of environmental semiochemicals. Transcriptomic and epigenetic differences are apparent between reproductive and sterile females, males and females, and workers that differ in body size. Quantitative genetic approaches suggest heritability of task performance, and population genetic studies indicate a genetic association with reproductive status in some species. Gene expression is associated with behavior including foraging, response to queens attempting to join a colony, circadian patterns of task performance, and age-related changes of task. Ant behavioral genetics needs further investigation of the feedback between individual-level physiological changes and socially mediated responses to environmental conditions.

    View details for DOI 10.1146/annurev-neuro-070815-013927

    View details for Web of Science ID 000381633400003

    View details for PubMedID 27050321

  • Intermediate disturbance promotes invasive ant abundance BIOLOGICAL CONSERVATION Vonshak, M., Gordon, D. M. 2015; 186: 359-367
  • The invasive Argentine ant Linepithema humile (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Northern California reserves: from foraging behavior to local spread MYRMECOLOGICAL NEWS Gordon, D. M., Heller, N. E. 2014; 19: 103-110
  • Water stress strengthens mutualism among ants, trees, and scale insects. PLoS biology Pringle, E. G., Akçay, E., Raab, T. K., Dirzo, R., Gordon, D. M. 2013; 11 (11)


    Abiotic environmental variables strongly affect the outcomes of species interactions. For example, mutualistic interactions between species are often stronger when resources are limited. The effect might be indirect: water stress on plants can lead to carbon stress, which could alter carbon-mediated plant mutualisms. In mutualistic ant-plant symbioses, plants host ant colonies that defend them against herbivores. Here we show that the partners' investments in a widespread ant-plant symbiosis increase with water stress across 26 sites along a Mesoamerican precipitation gradient. At lower precipitation levels, Cordia alliodora trees invest more carbon in Azteca ants via phloem-feeding scale insects that provide the ants with sugars, and the ants provide better defense of the carbon-producing leaves. Under water stress, the trees have smaller carbon pools. A model of the carbon trade-offs for the mutualistic partners shows that the observed strategies can arise from the carbon costs of rare but extreme events of herbivory in the rainy season. Thus, water limitation, together with the risk of herbivory, increases the strength of a carbon-based mutualism.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pbio.1001705

    View details for PubMedID 24223521

  • Does an ecological advantage produce the asymmetric lineage ratio in a harvester ant population? OECOLOGIA Gordon, D. M., Pilko, A., De Bortoli, N., Ingram, K. K. 2013; 173 (3): 849-857


    In dependent-lineage harvester ant populations, two lineages interbreed but are genetically distinct. The offspring of a male and queen of the same lineage are female reproductives; the offspring of a male and queen of different lineages are workers. Geographic surveys have shown asymmetries in the ratio of the two lineages in many harvester ant populations, which may be maintained by an ecological advantage to one of the lineages. Using census data from a long-term study of a dependent-lineage population of the red harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus, we identified the lineage of 130 colonies sampled in 1997-1999, ranging in age from 1 to 19 years when collected, and 268 colonies sampled in 2010, ranging in age from 1 to 28 years when collected. The ratio of lineages in the study population is similar across an 11-year interval, 0.59 J2 in 1999 and 0.66 J2 in 2010. The rare lineage, J1, had a slightly but significantly higher number of mates of the opposite lineage than the common lineage, J2, and, using data from previous work on reproductive output, higher male production. Mature colonies of the two lineages did not differ in nest mound size, foraging activity, or the propensity to relocate their nests. There were no strong differences in the relative recruitment or survivorship of the two lineages. Our results show no ecological advantage for either lineage, indicating that differences between the lineages in sex ratio allocation may be sufficient to maintain the current asymmetry of the lineage ratio in this population.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s00442-013-2690-z

    View details for Web of Science ID 000325819700020

    View details for PubMedID 23715745

  • Protection Mutualisms and the Community: Geographic Variation in an Ant-Plant Symbiosis and the Consequences for Herbivores SOCIOBIOLOGY Pringle, E. G., GORDON, D. M. 2013; 60 (3): 242-251
  • Fast and Flexible: Argentine Ants Recruit from Nearby Trails PLOS ONE Flanagan, T. P., Pinter-Wollman, N. M., Moses, M. E., Gordon, D. M. 2013; 8 (8)


    Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) live in groups of nests connected by trails to each other and to stable food sources. In a field study, we investigated whether some ants recruit directly from established, persistent trails to food sources, thus accelerating food collection. Our results indicate that Argentine ants recruit nestmates to food directly from persistent trails, and that the exponential increase in the arrival rate of ants at baits is faster than would be possible if recruited ants traveled from distant nests. Once ants find a new food source, they walk back and forth between the bait and sometimes share food by trophallaxis with nestmates on the trail. Recruiting ants from nearby persistent trails creates a dynamic circuit, like those found in other distributed systems, which facilitates a quick response to changes in available resources.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0070888

    View details for Web of Science ID 000323221500044

    View details for PubMedID 23967129

  • Harvester ants use interactions to regulate forager activation and availability ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR Pinter-Wollman, N., Bala, A., Merrell, A., Queirolo, J., Stumpe, M. C., Holmes, S., Gordon, D. M. 2013; 86 (1): 197-207
  • Harvester Ant Colony Variation in Foraging Activity and Response to Humidity PLOS ONE Gordon, D. M., Dektar, K. N., Pinter-Wollman, N. 2013; 8 (5)


    Collective behavior is produced by interactions among individuals. Differences among groups in individual response to interactions can lead to ecologically important variation among groups in collective behavior. Here we examine variation among colonies in the foraging behavior of the harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus. Previous work shows how colonies regulate foraging in response to food availability and desiccation costs: the rate at which outgoing foragers leave the nest depends on the rate at which foragers return with food. To examine how colonies vary in response to humidity and in foraging rate, we performed field experiments that manipulated forager return rate in 94 trials with 17 colonies over 3 years. We found that the effect of returning foragers on the rate of outgoing foragers increases with humidity. There are consistent differences among colonies in foraging activity that persist from year to year.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0063363

    View details for Web of Science ID 000319435600012

    View details for PubMedID 23717415

  • Colony life history and lifetime reproductive success of red harvester ant colonies JOURNAL OF ANIMAL ECOLOGY Ingram, K. K., Pilko, A., Heer, J., Gordon, D. M. 2013; 82 (3): 540-550
  • Aggression is task dependent in the red harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY Sturgis, S. J., Gordon, D. M. 2013; 24 (2): 532-539
  • Interactions with Combined Chemical Cues Inform Harvester Ant Foragers' Decisions to Leave the Nest in Search of Food PLOS ONE Greene, M. J., Pinter-Wollman, N., Gordon, D. M. 2013; 8 (1)


    Social insect colonies operate without central control or any global assessment of what needs to be done by workers. Colony organization arises from the responses of individuals to local cues. Red harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) regulate foraging using interactions between returning and outgoing foragers. The rate at which foragers return with seeds, a measure of food availability, sets the rate at which outgoing foragers leave the nest on foraging trips. We used mimics to test whether outgoing foragers inside the nest respond to the odor of food, oleic acid, the odor of the forager itself, cuticular hydrocarbons, or a combination of both with increased foraging activity. We compared foraging activity, the rate at which foragers passed a line on a trail, before and after the addition of mimics. The combination of both odors, those of food and of foragers, is required to stimulate foraging. The addition of blank mimics, mimics coated with food odor alone, or mimics coated with forager odor alone did not increase foraging activity. We compared the rates at which foragers inside the nest interacted with other ants, blank mimics, and mimics coated with a combination of food and forager odor. Foragers inside the nest interacted more with mimics coated with combined forager/seed odors than with blank mimics, and these interactions had the same effect as those with other foragers. Outgoing foragers inside the nest entrance are stimulated to leave the nest in search of food by interacting with foragers returning with seeds. By using the combined odors of forager cuticular hydrocarbons and of seeds, the colony captures precise information, on the timescale of seconds, about the current availability of food.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0052219

    View details for Web of Science ID 000313429800013

    View details for PubMedID 23308106

  • Anternet: The regulation of harvester ant foraging and Internet congestion control 2012 50TH ANNUAL ALLERTON CONFERENCE ON COMMUNICATION, CONTROL, AND COMPUTING (ALLERTON) Prabhakar, B., Dektar, K. N., Gordon, D. M. 2013: 1355-1359
  • Modeling the spread of the Argentine ant into natural areas: Habitat suitability and spread from neighboring sites ECOLOGICAL MODELLING Fitzgerald, K., Heller, N., Gordon, D. M. 2012; 247: 262-272
  • The Dynamics of Foraging Trails in the Tropical Arboreal Ant Cephalotes goniodontus PLOS ONE Gordon, D. M. 2012; 7 (11)


    The foraging behavior of the arboreal turtle ant, Cephalotes goniodontus, was studied in the tropical dry forest of western Mexico. The ants collected mostly plant-derived food, including nectar and fluids collected from the edges of wounds on leaves, as well as caterpillar frass and lichen. Foraging trails are on small pieces of ephemeral vegetation, and persist in exactly the same place for 4-8 days, indicating that food sources may be used until they are depleted. The species is polydomous, occupying many nests which are abandoned cavities or ends of broken branches in dead wood. Foraging trails extend from trees with nests to trees with food sources. Observations of marked individuals show that each trail is travelled by a distinct group of foragers. This makes the entire foraging circuit more resilient if a path becomes impassable, since foraging in one trail can continue while a different group of ants forms a new trail. The colony's trails move around the forest from month to month; from one year to the next, only one colony out of five was found in the same location. There is continual searching in the vicinity of trails: ants recruited to bait within 3 bifurcations of a main foraging trail within 4 hours. When bait was offered on one trail, to which ants recruited, foraging activity increased on a different trail, with no bait, connected to the same nest. This suggests that the allocation of foragers to different trails is regulated by interactions at the nest.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0050472

    View details for Web of Science ID 000312601700074

    View details for PubMedID 23209749

  • Plant defense, herbivory, and the growth of Cordia alliodora trees and their symbiotic Azteca ant colonies OECOLOGIA Pringle, E. G., Dirzo, R., Gordon, D. M. 2012; 170 (3): 677-685


    The effects of herbivory on plant fitness are integrated over a plant's lifetime, mediated by ontogenetic changes in plant defense, tolerance, and herbivore pressure. In symbiotic ant-plant mutualisms, plants provide nesting space and food for ants, and ants defend plants against herbivores. The benefit to the plant of sustaining the growth of symbiotic ant colonies depends on whether defense by the growing ant colony outpaces the plant's growth in defendable area and associated herbivore pressure. These relationships were investigated in the symbiotic mutualism between Cordia alliodora trees and Azteca pittieri ants in a Mexican tropical dry forest. As ant colonies grew, worker production remained constant relative to ant-colony size. As trees grew, leaf production increased relative to tree size. Moreover, larger trees hosted lower densities of ants, suggesting that ant-colony growth did not keep pace with tree growth. On leaves with ants experimentally excluded, herbivory per unit leaf area increased exponentially with tree size, indicating that larger trees experienced higher herbivore pressure per leaf area than smaller trees. Even with ant defense, herbivory increased with tree size. Therefore, although larger trees had larger ant colonies, ant density was lower in larger trees, and the ant colonies did not provide sufficient defense to compensate for the higher herbivore pressure in larger trees. These results suggest that in this system the tree can decrease herbivory by promoting ant-colony growth, i.e., sustaining space and food investment in ants, as long as the tree continues to grow.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s00442-012-2340-x

    View details for Web of Science ID 000309866200009

    View details for PubMedID 22562422

  • Nest site and weather affect the personality of harvester ant colonies BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY Pinter-Wollman, N., Gordon, D. M., Holmes, S. 2012; 23 (5): 1022-1029


    Environmental conditions and physical constraints both influence an animal's behavior. We investigate whether behavioral variation among colonies of the black harvester ant, Messor andrei, remains consistent across foraging and disturbance situations and ask whether consistent colony behavior is affected by nest site and weather. We examined variation among colonies in responsiveness to food baits and to disturbance, measured as a change in numbers of active ants, and in the speed with which colonies retrieved food and removed debris. Colonies differed consistently, across foraging and disturbance situations, in both responsiveness and speed. Increased activity in response to food was associated with a smaller decrease in response to alarm. Speed of retrieving food was correlated with speed of removing debris. In all colonies, speed was greater in dry conditions, reducing the amount of time ants spent outside the nest. While a colony occupied a certain nest site, its responsiveness was consistent in both foraging and disturbance situations, suggesting that nest structure influences colony personality.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/beheco/ars066

    View details for Web of Science ID 000308228200017

    View details for PubMedID 22936841

  • The Regulation of Ant Colony Foraging Activity without Spatial Information PLOS COMPUTATIONAL BIOLOGY Prabhakar, B., Dektar, K. N., Gordon, D. M. 2012; 8 (8)


    Many dynamical networks, such as the ones that produce the collective behavior of social insects, operate without any central control, instead arising from local interactions among individuals. A well-studied example is the formation of recruitment trails in ant colonies, but many ant species do not use pheromone trails. We present a model of the regulation of foraging by harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) colonies. This species forages for scattered seeds that one ant can retrieve on its own, so there is no need for spatial information such as pheromone trails that lead ants to specific locations. Previous work shows that colony foraging activity, the rate at which ants go out to search individually for seeds, is regulated in response to current food availability throughout the colony's foraging area. Ants use the rate of brief antennal contacts inside the nest between foragers returning with food and outgoing foragers available to leave the nest on the next foraging trip. Here we present a feedback-based algorithm that captures the main features of data from field experiments in which the rate of returning foragers was manipulated. The algorithm draws on our finding that the distribution of intervals between successive ants returning to the nest is a Poisson process. We fitted the parameter that estimates the effect of each returning forager on the rate at which outgoing foragers leave the nest. We found that correlations between observed rates of returning foragers and simulated rates of outgoing foragers, using our model, were similar to those in the data. Our simple stochastic model shows how the regulation of ant colony foraging can operate without spatial information, describing a process at the level of individual ants that predicts the overall foraging activity of the colony.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002670

    View details for Web of Science ID 000308553500045

    View details for PubMedID 22927811

  • Diversification and phylogeographic structure in widespread Azteca plant-ants from the northern Neotropics MOLECULAR ECOLOGY Pringle, E. G., Ramirez, S. R., Bonebrake, T. C., Gordon, D. M., Dirzo, R. 2012; 21 (14): 3576-3592


    The Neotropical myrmecophytic tree Cordia alliodora hosts symbiotic Azteca ants in most of its widespread range. The taxonomy of the genus Azteca is notoriously difficult, which has frequently obscured species identity in ecological studies. We used sequence data from one mitochondrial and four nuclear loci to infer phylogenetic relationships, patterns of geographic distribution, and timing of diversification for 182 colonies of five C. alliodora-dwelling Azteca species from Mexico to Colombia. All morphological species were recovered as monophyletic, but we identified at least five distinct genetic lineages within the most abundant and specialized species, Azteca pittieri. Mitochondrial and nuclear data were concordant at the species level, but not within species. Divergence time analyses estimated that C. alliodora-dwelling Azteca shared a common ancestor approximately 10-22million years ago, prior to the proposed arrival of the host tree in Middle America. Diversification in A. pittieri occurred in the Pleistocene and was not correlated with geographic distance, which suggests limited historical gene flow among geographically restricted populations. This contrasts with the previously reported lack of phylogeographic structure at this spatial scale in the host tree. Climatic niches, and particularly precipitation-related variables, did not overlap between the sites occupied by northern and southern lineages of A. pittieri. Together, these results suggest that restricted gene flow among ant populations may facilitate local adaptation to environmental heterogeneity. Differences in population structure between the ants and their host trees may profoundly affect the evolutionary dynamics of this widespread ant-plant mutualism.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2012.05618.x

    View details for Web of Science ID 000306087100017

    View details for PubMedID 22646059

  • Effects of Vegetation Cover, Presence of a Native Ant Species, and Human Disturbance on Colonization by Argentine Ants CONSERVATION BIOLOGY Fitzgerald, K., Gordon, D. M. 2012; 26 (3): 525-538


    The spread of non-native invasive species is affected by human activity, vegetation cover, weather, and interaction with native species. We analyzed data from a 17-year study of the distribution of the non-native Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) and the native winter ant (Prenolepis imparis) in a preserve in northern California (U.S.A.). We conducted logistic regressions and used model selection to determine whether the following variables were associated with changes in the distribution of each species: presence of conspecifics at neighboring sites, distance to development (e.g., roads, buildings, and landscaped areas), proportion of vegetation cover taller than 0.75 m, elevation, distance to water, presence of both species at a site, temperature, and rainfall. Argentine ants colonized unoccupied sites from neighboring sites, but the probability of appearance and persistence decreased as distance to development, vegetation cover, and elevation increased. Winter ants appeared and persisted in sites with relatively high vegetation cover (i.e., highly shaded sites). Presence of the 2 species was negatively associated in sites with high vegetation cover (more winter ants) and sites near development (more Argentine ants). Probability of colonization of Argentine ants decreased where winter ants were most persistent. At sites near development within the preserve, abundant Argentine ant populations may be excluding winter ants. The high abundance of Argentine ants at these sites may be due to immigration from suburban areas outside the preserve, which are high-quality habitat for Argentine ants. In the interior of the preserve, distance from development, low-quality habitat, and interaction with winter ants may in combination exclude Argentine ants. Interactions among the variables we examined were associated with low probabilities of Argentine ant colonization in the preserve.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2012.01836.x

    View details for Web of Science ID 000304135300016

    View details for PubMedID 22533673

  • Nestmate recognition in ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): a review MYRMECOLOGICAL NEWS Sturgis, S. J., Gordon, D. M. 2012; 16: 101-110
  • The effect of individual variation on the structure and function of interaction networks in harvester ants JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY INTERFACE Pinter-Wollman, N., Wollman, R., Guetz, A., Holmes, S., Gordon, D. M. 2011; 8 (64): 1562-1573


    Social insects exhibit coordinated behaviour without central control. Local interactions among individuals determine their behaviour and regulate the activity of the colony. Harvester ants are recruited for outside work, using networks of brief antennal contacts, in the nest chamber closest to the nest exit: the entrance chamber. Here, we combine empirical observations, image analysis and computer simulations to investigate the structure and function of the interaction network in the entrance chamber. Ant interactions were distributed heterogeneously in the chamber, with an interaction hot-spot at the entrance leading further into the nest. The distribution of the total interactions per ant followed a right-skewed distribution, indicating the presence of highly connected individuals. Numbers of ant encounters observed positively correlated with the duration of observation. Individuals varied in interaction frequency, even after accounting for the duration of observation. An ant's interaction frequency was explained by its path shape and location within the entrance chamber. Computer simulations demonstrate that variation among individuals in connectivity accelerates information flow to an extent equivalent to an increase in the total number of interactions. Individual variation in connectivity, arising from variation among ants in location and spatial behaviour, creates interaction centres, which may expedite information flow.

    View details for DOI 10.1098/rsif.2011.0059

    View details for Web of Science ID 000295211200003

    View details for PubMedID 21490001

  • Hydrocarbons on Harvester Ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) Middens Guide Foragers to the Nest JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL ECOLOGY Sturgis, S. J., Greene, M. J., Gordon, D. M. 2011; 37 (5): 514-524


    Colony-specific cuticular hydrocarbons are used by social insects in nestmate recognition. Here, we showed that hydrocarbons found on the mound of Pogonomyrmex barbatus nests facilitate the return of foragers to the nest. Colony-specific hydrocarbons, which ants use to distinguish nestmates from non-nestmates, are found on the midden pebbles placed on the nest mound. Midden hydrocarbons occur in a concentration gradient, growing stronger near the nest entrance, which is in the center of a 1-2 m diameter nest mound. Foraging behavior was disrupted when the gradient of hydrocarbons was altered experimentally. When midden material was diluted with artificial pebbles lacking the colony-specific hydrocarbons, the speed of returning foragers decreased significantly. The chemical environment of the nest mound contributes to the regulation of foraging behavior in harvester ants.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s10886-011-9947-y

    View details for Web of Science ID 000291489500011

    View details for PubMedID 21494855

  • Chemical Defense by the Native Winter Ant (Prenolepis imparis) against the Invasive Argentine Ant (Linepithema humile) PLOS ONE Sorrells, T. R., Kuritzky, L. Y., Kauhanen, P. G., Fitzgerald, K., Sturgis, S. J., Chen, J., Dijamco, C. A., Basurto, K. N., Gordon, D. M. 2011; 6 (4)


    The invasive Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) is established worldwide and displaces native ant species. In northern California, however, the native winter ant (Prenolepis imparis) persists in invaded areas. We found that in aggressive interactions between the two species, P. imparis employs a potent defensive secretion. Field observations were conducted at P. imparis nest sites both in the presence and absence of L. humile. These observations suggested and laboratory assays confirmed that P. imparis workers are more likely to secrete when outnumbered by L. humile. Workers of P. imparis were also more likely to secrete near their nest entrances than when foraging on trees. One-on-one laboratory trials showed that the P. imparis secretion is highly lethal to L. humile, causing 79% mortality. The nonpolar fraction of the secretion was chemically analyzed with gas chromatography/mass spectrometry, and found to be composed of long-chain and cyclic hydrocarbons. Chemical analysis of dissected P. imparis workers showed that the nonpolar fraction is derived from the Dufour's gland. Based on these conclusions, we hypothesize that this chemical defense may help P. imparis to resist displacement by L. humile.

    View details for DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0018717

    View details for Web of Science ID 000289671100015

    View details for PubMedID 21526231

  • Colony variation in the collective regulation of foraging by harvester ants BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY Gordon, D. M., Guetz, A., Greene, M. J., Holmes, S. 2011; 22 (2): 429-435


    This study investigates variation in collective behavior in a natural population of colonies of the harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus. Harvester ant colonies regulate foraging activity to adjust to current food availability; the rate at which inactive foragers leave the nest on the next trip depends on the rate at which successful foragers return with food. This study investigates differences among colonies in foraging activity and how these differences are associated with variation among colonies in the regulation of foraging. Colonies differ in the baseline rate at which patrollers leave the nest, without stimulation from returning ants. This baseline rate predicts a colony's foraging activity, suggesting there is a colony-specific activity level that influences how quickly any ant leaves the nest. When a colony's foraging activity is high, the colony is more likely to regulate foraging. Moreover, colonies differ in the propensity to adjust the rate of outgoing foragers to the rate of forager return. Naturally occurring variation in the regulation of foraging may lead to variation in colony survival and reproductive success.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/beheco/arq218

    View details for Web of Science ID 000289299500033

    View details for PubMedID 22479133

  • The fusion of behavioral ecology and ecology BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY Gordon, D. M. 2011; 22 (2): 225-230
  • Indirect benefits of symbiotic coccoids for an ant-defended myrmecophytic tree ECOLOGY Pringle, E. G., Dirzo, R., Gordon, D. M. 2011; 92 (1): 37-46


    The net benefits of mutualism depend directly on the costs and effectiveness of mutualistic services and indirectly on the interactions that affect those services. We examined interactions among Cordia alliodora myrmecophytic trees, their symbiotic ants Azteca pittieri, coccoid hemipterans, and foliar herbivores in two Neotropical dry forests. The tree makes two investments in symbiotic ants: it supplies nesting space, as domatia, and it provides phloem to coccoids, which then produce honeydew that is consumed by ants. Although higher densities of coccoids should have higher direct costs for trees, we asked whether higher densities of coccoids can also have higher indirect benefits for trees by increasing the effectiveness of ant defense against foliar herbivores. We found that trees benefited from ant defense against herbivores. Ants defended trees effectively only when colonies reached high densities within trees, and ant and coccoid densities within trees were strongly positively correlated. The benefits of reduced foliar herbivory by larger ant colonies were therefore indirectly controlled by the number of coccoids. Coccoid honeydew supply also affected per capita ant aggression against tree herbivores. Ants experimentally fed a carbohydrate-rich diet, analogous to sugar obtained from coccoids, were more aggressive against caterpillars per capita than ants fed a carbohydrate-poor diet. Ant defense was more effective on more valuable and vulnerable young leaves than on older leaves. Young domatia, associated with young leaves, contained higher coccoid densities than older domatia, which suggests that coccoids may also drive spatially favorable ant defense of the tree. If higher investments by one mutualistic partner are tied to higher benefits received from the other, there may be positive feedback between partners that will stabilize the mutualism. These results suggest that higher investment by trees in coccoids leads to more effective defense by ants against the tree's foliar herbivores.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000289552200006

    View details for PubMedID 21560674

  • Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari with a Cast of Trillions (Book Review) NATURE Book Review Authored by: Gordon, D. M. 2010; 465 (7295): 163-163

    View details for DOI 10.1038/465163a

    View details for Web of Science ID 000277558500017

  • Fine-scale genetic structure and dispersal distance in the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus HEREDITY Suni, S. S., GORDON, D. M. 2010; 104 (2): 168-173


    Dispersal has important genetic and evolutionary consequences. It is notoriously difficult to study in some ant species, because reproductives fly from parent nests to mating aggregations and then to new nest sites. We used genetic techniques to measure dispersal distance and characterize patterns of genetic variation in a population of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus. This population consists of two interdependent yet genetically distinct mitochondrial lineages, each associated with specific alleles at nuclear loci. We found moderate levels of genetic structure for both lineages and a significant pattern of isolation by distance when individual colonies were the operational unit of study. Dispersal distances calculated from the slope of the regression of genetic on geographic distance were 65.3 m for J1 and 85.8 m for J2. These results are consistent with previous observations of many mating aggregations over small geographic areas. In dependent-lineage populations like our study population, females must mate with males of the opposite lineage to produce workers, and with males of the same lineage to produce female reproductives. Because lineage ratios differ from 1:1 throughout the southwestern United States, restricted dispersal between sites with different lineage ratios could have important effects on dependent-lineage population dynamics. Our results suggest that it is unlikely that many individuals disperse from areas dominated by one lineage to areas dominated by another. Short dispersal distances lead to low gene flow, giving local populations evolutionary independence.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/hdy.2009.124

    View details for Web of Science ID 000273802800009

    View details for PubMedID 19773807

  • The intertwined population biology of two Amazonian myrmecophytes and their symbiotic ants ECOLOGY Frederickson, M. E., Gordon, D. M. 2009; 90 (6): 1595-1607


    A major question in ecology is: how do mutualisms between species affect population dynamics? For four years, we monitored populations of two Amazonian myrmecophytes, Cordia nodosa and Duroia hirsuta, and their symbiotic ants. In this system, we investigated how positive feedback between mutualistic plants and ant colonies influenced population processes at two scales: (1) how modular organisms such as plants and ant colonies grew, or eta-demography, and (2) how populations grew, or N-demography. We found evidence of positive feedback between ant colony and plant growth rates. Plants with mutualistic ants (Azteca spp. and Myrmelachista schumanni) grew in a geometric or autocatalytic manner, such that the largest plants grew the most. By contrast, the growth of plants with parasitic ants (Allomerus octoarticulatus) saturated. Ant colonies occupied new domatia as fast as plants produced them, suggesting that mutualistic ant colonies also grew geometrically or autocatalytically to match plant growth. Plants became smaller when they lost ants. While unoccupied, plants continued to become smaller until they had lost all or nearly all their domatia. Hence, the loss of mutualistic ants limited plant growth. C. nodosa and D. hirsuta live longer than their ant symbionts and were sometimes recolonized after losing ants, which again promoted plant growth. Plant growth had fitness consequences for ants and plants; mortality and fecundity depended on plant size. Positive feedback between ants and plants allowed a few plants and ant colonies to become very large; these probably produced the majority of offspring in the next generation.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000266662500020

    View details for PubMedID 19569374

  • How site fidelity leads to individual differences in the foraging activity of harvester ants BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY Beverly, B. D., McLendon, H., Nacu, S., Holmes, S., Gordon, D. M. 2009; 20 (3): 633-638
  • Nest connectivity and colony structure in unicolonial Argentine ants INSECTES SOCIAUX Heller, N. E., Ingram, K. K., GORDON, D. M. 2008; 55 (4): 397-403
  • Rainfall facilitates the spread, and time alters the impact, of the invasive Argentine ant OECOLOGIA Heller, N. E., Sanders, N. J., Shors, J. W., Gordon, D. M. 2008; 155 (2): 385-395


    Climate change may exacerbate invasions by making conditions more favorable to introduced species relative to native species. Here we used data obtained during a long-term biannual survey of the distribution of ant species in a 481-ha preserve in northern California to assess the influence of interannual variation in rainfall on the spread of invasive Argentine ants, Linepithema humile, and the displacement of native ant species. Since the survey began in 1993, Argentine ants have expanded their range into 74 new hectares. Many invaded hectares were later abandoned, so the range of Argentine ants increased in some years and decreased in others. Rainfall predicted both range expansion and interannual changes in the distribution of Argentine ants: high rainfall, particularly in summer months, promoted their spread in the summer. This suggests that an increase in rainfall will promote a wider distribution of Argentine ants and increase their spread into new areas in California. Surprisingly, the distribution of two native ant species also increased following high rainfall, but only in areas of the preserve that were invaded by L. humile. Rainfall did not have a negative impact on total native ant species richness in invaded areas. Instead, native ant species richness in invaded areas increased significantly over the 13 years of observation. This suggests that the impact of Argentine ants on naïve ant communities may be most severe early in the invasion process.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s00442-007-0911-z

    View details for Web of Science ID 000253215900017

    View details for PubMedID 18004595

  • The short-term regulation of foraging in harvester ants BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY Gordon, D. M., Holmes, S., Nacu, S. 2008; 19 (1): 217-222
  • How patrollers set foraging direction in harvester ants AMERICAN NATURALIST Greene, M. J., Gordon, D. M. 2007; 170 (6): 943-948


    Recruitment to food or nest sites is well known in ants; the recruiting ants lay a chemical trail that other ants follow to the target site, or they walk with other ants to the target site. Here we report that a different process determines foraging direction in the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus. Each day, the colony chooses from among up to eight distinct foraging trails; colonies use different trails on different days. Here we show that the patrollers regulate the direction taken by foragers each day by depositing Dufour's secretions onto a sector of the nest mound about 20 cm long and leading to the beginning of a foraging trail. The patrollers do not recruit foragers all the way to food sources, which may be up to 20 m away. Fewer foragers traveled along a trail if patrollers had no access to the sector of the nest mound leading to that trail. Adding Dufour's gland extract to patroller-free sectors of the nest mound rescued foraging in that direction, while poison gland extract did not. We also found that in the absence of patrollers, most foragers used the direction they had used on the previous day. Thus, the colony's 30-50 patrollers act as gatekeepers for thousands of foragers and choose a foraging direction, but they do not recruit and lead foragers all the way to a food source.

    View details for DOI 10.1086/522843

    View details for Web of Science ID 000250832000016

    View details for PubMedID 18171176

  • Male parentage in dependent-lineage populations of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus MOLECULAR ECOLOGY Suni, S. S., Gignoux, C., Gordon, D. M. 2007; 16 (24): 5149-5155


    We investigated the extent to which workers reproduce in a dependent-lineage population of the monogynous harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus. Dependent-lineage populations contain two interbreeding, yet genetically distinct mitochondrial lineages, each associated with specific alleles at nuclear loci. Workers develop from matings between lineages, and queens develop from matings within lineages, so queens must mate with males of both lineages to produce daughter queens and workers. Males develop from unfertilized eggs and are haploid. Worker production of males could lead to male-mediated gene flow between the lineages if worker-produced males were reproductively capable. This could result in the loss of the dependent-lineage system, because its persistence depends on the maintenance of allelic differences between the lineages. To investigate the extent of worker reproduction in P. barbatus, we genotyped 19-20 males and workers from seven colonies, at seven microsatellite loci, and 1239 additional males at two microsatellite loci. Our methods were powerful enough to detect worker reproduction if workers produced more than 0.39% of males in the population. We detected no worker-produced males; all males appeared to be produced by queens. Thus, worker reproduction is sufficiently infrequent to have little impact on the dependent-lineage system. These results are consistent with predictions based on inclusive fitness theory because the effective queen mating frequency calculated from worker genotypes was 4.26, which is sufficiently high for workers to police those that attempt to reproduce.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2007.03492.x

    View details for Web of Science ID 000251671700005

    View details for PubMedID 18092991

  • The devil to pay: a cost of mutualism with Myrmelachista schumanni ants in 'devil's gardens' is increased herbivory on Duroia hirsuta trees PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY B-BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES Frederickson, M. E., Gordon, D. M. 2007; 274 (1613): 1117-1123


    'Devil's gardens' are nearly pure stands of the myrmecophyte, Duroia hirsuta, that occur in Amazonian rainforests. Devil's gardens are created by Myrmelachista schumanni ants, which nest in D. hirsuta trees and kill other plants using formic acid as an herbicide. Here, we show that this ant-plant mutualism has an associated cost; by making devil's gardens, M. schumanni increases herbivory on D. hirsuta. We measured standing leaf herbivory on D. hirsuta trees and found that they sustain higher herbivory inside than outside devil's gardens. We also measured the rate of herbivory on nursery-grown D. hirsuta saplings planted inside and outside devil's gardens in ant-exclusion and control treatments. We found that when we excluded ants, herbivory on D. hirsuta was higher inside than outside devil's gardens. These results suggest that devil's gardens are a concentrated resource for herbivores. Myrmelachista schumanni workers defend D. hirsuta against herbivores, but do not fully counterbalance the high herbivore pressure in devil's gardens. We suggest that high herbivory may limit the spread of devil's gardens, possibly explaining why devil's gardens do not overrun Amazonian rainforests.

    View details for DOI 10.1098/rspb.2006.0415

    View details for Web of Science ID 000245472200015

    View details for PubMedID 17301016

  • Control without hierarchy NATURE Gordon, D. M. 2007; 446 (7132): 143-143

    View details for DOI 10.1038/446143a

    View details for Web of Science ID 000244718100025

    View details for PubMedID 17344838

  • Interaction rate informs harvester ant task decisions BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY Greene, M. J., Gordon, D. M. 2007; 18 (2): 451-455
  • Structural complexity of chemical recognition cues affects the perception of group membership in the ants Linephithema humile and Aphaenogaster cockerelli JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY Greene, M. J., Gordon, D. M. 2007; 210 (5): 897-905


    Hydrocarbon profiles on the cuticle of social insects act as multi-component recognition cues used to identify membership in a species, a colony or, within colonies, cues about its reproductive status or task group. To examine the role of structural complexity in ant hydrocarbon recognition cues, we studied the species recognition response of two ant species, Linepithema humile and Aphaenogaster cockerelli, and the recognition of conspecifics by L. humile. The cuticular hydrocarbons of ants are composed of molecules of varying chain lengths from three structural classes, n-alkanes, methyl-branched alkanes and n-alkenes. We employed species recognition bioassays that measured the aggressive response of both species of ants to mixtures of hydrocarbon classes, single structural classes of hydrocarbons (n-alkanes, methyl-branched alkanes and n-alkenes), and controls. The results showed that a combination of at least two hydrocarbon structural classes was necessary to elicit an aggressive species recognition response. Moreover, no single class of hydrocarbons was more important than the others in eliciting a response. Similarly, in the recognition of conspecifics, Linepithema humile did not respond to a mixture of n-alkane cuticular hydrocarbons presented alone, but supplementation of nestmate hydrocarbon profiles with the n-alkanes did elicit high levels of aggression. Thus both L. humile and A. cockerelli required mixtures of hydrocarbons of different structural classes to recognize species and colony membership. It appears that information on species and colony membership is not in isolated components of the profile, but instead in the mixture of structural classes found in cuticular hydrocarbon profiles.

    View details for DOI 10.1242/jeb.02706

    View details for Web of Science ID 000244633000023

    View details for PubMedID 17297148

  • Seasonal spatial dynamics and causes of nest movement in colonies of the invasive Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) ECOLOGICAL ENTOMOLOGY Heller, N. E., Gordon, D. M. 2006; 31 (5): 499-510
  • Brood production and lineage discrimination in the red harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) ECOLOGY Volny, V. P., Greene, M. J., Gordon, D. M. 2006; 87 (9): 2194-2200


    In contrast to the system of caste determination in most social insects, reproductive caste determination in some populations of Pogonomyrmex barbatus has a genetic basis. Populations that exhibit genetic caste determination are segregated into two distinct, genetic lineages. Same-lineage matings result in female reproductives, while inter-lineage matings result in workers. To investigate whether founding P. barbatus queens lay eggs of reproductive genotype, and to determine the fate of those eggs, we genotyped eggs, larvae, and pupae produced by naturally inseminated, laboratory-raised queens. We show that founding dependent lineage queens do lay eggs of reproductive genotype, and that the proportion of reproductive genotypes decreases over the course of development from eggs to larvae to pupae. Because queens must mate with a male of each lineage to produce both workers and female reproductives, it would benefit queens to be able to distinguish males of the two lineages. Here we show that P. barbatus males from the two genetic lineages differ in their cuticular hydrocarbon profiles. Queens could use male cuticular hydrocarbons as cues to assess the lineage of males at the mating aggregation, and possibly keep mating until they have mated with males of both lineages.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000240253000007

    View details for PubMedID 16995618

  • Linking temporal and spatial scales in the study of an Argentine ant invasion BIOLOGICAL INVASIONS Heller, N. E., Sanders, N. J., GORDON, D. M. 2006; 8 (3): 501-507
  • Forager activation and food availability in harvester ants ANIMAL BEHAVIOUR Schafer, R. J., Holmes, S., Gordon, D. M. 2006; 71: 815-822
  • 'Devil's gardens' bedevilled by ants NATURE Frederickson, M. E., Greene, M. J., GORDON, D. M. 2005; 437 (7058): 495-496


    'Devil's gardens' are large stands of trees in the Amazonian rainforest that consist almost entirely of a single species, Duroia hirsuta, and, according to local legend, are cultivated by an evil forest spirit. Here we show that the ant Myrmelachista schumanni, which nests in D. hirsuta stems, creates devil's gardens by poisoning all plants except its host plants with formic acid. By killing these other plants, M. schumanni provides its colonies with abundant nest sites--a long-lasting benefit as colonies can live for 800 years.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/437495a

    View details for Web of Science ID 000232004800035

    View details for PubMedID 16177778

  • Task-specific expression of the foraging gene in harvester ants MOLECULAR ECOLOGY Ingram, K. K., Oefner, P., GORDON, D. M. 2005; 14 (3): 813-818


    In social insects, groups of workers perform various tasks such as brood care and foraging. Transitions in workers from one task to another are important in the organization and ecological success of colonies. Regulation of genetic pathways can lead to plasticity in social insect task behaviour. The colony organization of advanced eusocial insects evolved independently in ants, bees, and wasps and it is not known whether the genetic mechanisms that influence behavioural plasticity are conserved across species. Here we show that a gene associated with foraging behaviour is conserved across social insect species, but the expression patterns of this gene are not. We cloned the red harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) ortholog (Pbfor) to foraging, one of few genes implicated in social organization, and found that foraging behaviour in harvester ants is associated with the expression of this gene; young (callow) worker brains have significantly higher levels of Pbfor mRNA than foragers. Levels of Pbfor mRNA in other worker task groups vary among harvester ant colonies. However, foragers always have the lowest expression levels compared to other task groups. The association between foraging behaviour and the foraging gene is conserved across social insects but ants and bees have an inverse relationship between foraging expression and behaviour.

    View details for DOI 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2005.02450.x

    View details for Web of Science ID 000227132300013

    View details for PubMedID 15723672

  • Variation in the transition from inside to outside work in the red harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus INSECTES SOCIAUX Gordon, D. M., Chu, J., Lillie, A., Tissot, M., Pinter, N. 2005; 52 (3): 212-217
  • The interactive effects of climate, life history, and interspecific neighbours on mortality in a population of seed harvester ants ECOLOGICAL ENTOMOLOGY Sanders, N. J., GORDON, D. M. 2004; 29 (5): 632-637
  • Development of harvester ant colonies alters soil chemistry SOIL BIOLOGY & BIOCHEMISTRY Wagner, D., Jones, J. B., GORDON, D. M. 2004; 36 (5): 797-804
  • Cuticular hydrocarbons act as cues in the interaction network regulating harvester ant task allocation Greene, M. J., GORDON, D. M. OXFORD UNIV PRESS INC. 2003: 846-846
  • Genetic analysis of dispersal dynamics in an invading population of Argentine ants ECOLOGY Ingram, K. K., GORDON, D. M. 2003; 84 (11): 2832-2842
  • Social insects - Cuticular hydrocarbons inform task decisions NATURE Greene, M. J., GORDON, D. M. 2003; 423 (6935): 32-32

    View details for DOI 10.1038/423032a

    View details for Web of Science ID 000182561600031

    View details for PubMedID 12721617

  • Resource-dependent interactions and the organization of desert ant communities ECOLOGY Sanders, N. J., GORDON, D. M. 2003; 84 (4): 1024-1031
  • Community disassembly by an invasive species PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Sanders, N. J., Gotelli, N. J., Heller, N. E., GORDON, D. M. 2003; 100 (5): 2474-2477


    Invasive species pose serious threats to community structure and ecosystem function worldwide. The impacts of invasive species can be more pervasive than simple reduction of species numbers. By using 7 years of data in a biological preserve in northern California, we documented the disassembly of native ant communities during an invasion by the Argentine ant. In sites without the Argentine ant, native ant communities exhibit significant species segregation, consistent with competitive dynamics. In sites with the Argentine ant, native ant communities appear random or weakly aggregated in species co-occurrence. Comparisons of the same sites before and after invasion indicate that the shift from a structured to a random community is rapid and occurs within a year of invasion. Our results show that invasive species not only reduce biodiversity but rapidly disassemble communities and, as a result, alter community organization among the species that persist.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.0437913100

    View details for Web of Science ID 000181365000057

    View details for PubMedID 12604772

  • The effects of proximity and colony age on interspecific interference competition between the desert ants Pogonomyrmex barbatus and Aphaenogaster cockerelli AMERICAN MIDLAND NATURALIST Barton, K. E., Sanders, N. J., Gordon, D. M. 2002; 148 (2): 376-382
  • Characterization of polymorphic microsatellite loci in the red harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus MOLECULAR ECOLOGY NOTES Volny, V. P., GORDON, D. M. 2002; 2 (3): 302-303
  • The regulation of foraging activity in red harvester ant colonies AMERICAN NATURALIST Gordon, D. M. 2002; 159 (5): 509-518


    Behavioral plasticity in social insects is intriguing because colonies adjust to environmental change through the aggregated responses of individuals. Without central control, colonies adjust numbers of workers allocated to various tasks. Individual decisions are based on local information from the environment and other workers. This study examines how colonies of the seed-eating ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus adjust the intensity of foraging in an arid environment where conspecific neighbors compete for foraging area. The main question is how foragers decide whether to leave the nest. Patrollers search the area before foragers emerge. Removal experiments show that the return of the patrollers stimulates the onset of foraging, and later, the rate at which foragers return affects the rate at which foragers continue to leave the nest. Foraging activity is less sensitive to changes in the rate of returning foragers than to changes in the rate of returning patrollers. These results suggest that whether a colony forages at all on a given day depends on conditions detected early by patrollers but that once foraging begins, the intensity of foraging does not track, on an hourly timescale, how quickly foragers can find food.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000175302800007

    View details for PubMedID 18707433

  • Genetic basis for queen-worker dimorphism in a social insect PROCEEDINGS OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Volny, V. P., GORDON, D. M. 2002; 99 (9): 6108-6111


    Eusocial insects are characterized by reproductive division of labor, cooperative brood care, and the presence of a sterile worker caste. It is generally accepted that caste determination, including the differentiation of females into sterile workers and reproductive queens, is determined by environmental factors. In contrast, we find that in the red harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus, an individual's genotype at a particular microsatellite locus predicts its caste. We propose that this microsatellite locus is in tight linkage disequilibrium with at least one locus that plays an important role in caste determination. We call this the caste locus. We hypothesize that the system of caste determination we observe segregates the population into two distinct genetic lineages, each of which has distinct alleles at the microsatellite locus and also has distinct alleles, we propose, at caste. Workers are the offspring of parents from different lineages, and are thus heterozygous at caste, whereas queens are the offspring of parents from the same lineage, and are, therefore, homozygous at caste. This mode of caste determination has important consequences for the evolution of multiple mating by females and for control of the sex ratio and reproductive allocation in social insect colonies.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.092066699

    View details for Web of Science ID 000175377800066

    View details for PubMedID 11972049

  • Resources and the flexible allocation of work in the desert ant, Aphaenogaster cockerelli INSECTES SOCIAUX Sanders, N. J., GORDON, D. M. 2002; 49 (4): 371-379
  • Qualitative and quantitative differences in cuticular hydrocarbons between laboratory and field colonies of Pogonomyrmex barbatus COMPARATIVE BIOCHEMISTRY AND PHYSIOLOGY B-BIOCHEMISTRY & MOLECULAR BIOLOGY Tissot, M., Nelson, D. R., GORDON, D. M. 2001; 130 (3): 349-358


    Ants held in the laboratory and field ants of the species Pogonomyrmex barbatus have quantitative differences in their cuticular hydrocarbons and a qualitative difference in their methyl-branched hydrocarbons. Laboratory-held workers showed twice the hydrocarbon content as field ants. This difference was mainly due to higher amounts of straight-chain alkanes and methyl-branched alkanes in laboratory ants, whereas the proportion of the alkenes remained the same for both groups. In addition to the absence of some hydrocarbons in the field colonies, one of the methyl-branched hydrocarbons differed in amount and branching pattern between the two groups of ants. Whereas, notable peaks of 2-methylalkanes were identified in ants kept in the laboratory, these compounds could not be identified in ants living in their natural habitat. However, a trace amount of 4-methyltriacontane was found in lieu of the 2-methyltriacontane counterpart in field ants. Possible explanations for both qualitative and quantitative differences are discussed.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000171356000008

    View details for PubMedID 11567897

  • Effect of weather on infestation of buildings by the invasive Argentine ant, Linepithema humile (Hymenoptera : Formicidae) AMERICAN MIDLAND NATURALIST Gordon, D. M., Moses, L., Falkovitz-Halpern, M., Wong, E. H. 2001; 146 (2): 321-328
  • Task-related environment alters the cuticular hydrocarbon composition of harvester ants JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL ECOLOGY Wagner, D., Tissot, M., GORDON, D. 2001; 27 (9): 1805-1819


    Within a colony of harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus), workers in different task groups differ in the hydrocarbon composition of the cuticle. Foragers and patrollers, which spend extended periods of time outside the nest, have a higher proportion of saturated, unbranched hydrocarbons (n-alkanes) on the cuticle than nest maintenance workers, which spend only short periods of time outside the nest. We tested whether these task-related differences in ant cuticular chemistry arise from exposure to conditions outside the nest. Nest maintenance workers experiencing daily, short-term outside exposure developed a higher proportion of n-alkanes on the cuticle than workers kept inside the lab. Independent manipulations of ultraviolet radiation, relative humidity, and temperature revealed that only the combination of high temperature (ca. 38 degrees C) and low relative humidity (ca. 8%) increased the proportion of cuticular n-alkanes. The results indicate that warm dry conditions, such as those encountered when an ant leaves the nest, trigger changes in cuticular chemistry.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000170660400007

    View details for PubMedID 11545372

  • Novel wax esters and hydrocarbons in the cuticular surface lipids of the red harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus COMPARATIVE BIOCHEMISTRY AND PHYSIOLOGY B-BIOCHEMISTRY & MOLECULAR BIOLOGY Nelson, D. R., Tissot, M., Nelson, L. J., Fatland, C. L., GORDON, D. M. 2001; 128 (3): 575-595


    The cuticular surface lipids of the red harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus, were found to contain minor amounts of novel wax esters, in addition to the major components, hydrocarbons. The wax esters ranged in carbon number from C19 to C31 and consisted of esters of both odd- and even-numbered alcohols and acids. Each wax ester with a given carbon number eluted at several different retention times indicating possible methyl branching in either the fatty acid or alcohol moiety, or in both moieties. Each eluting peak of wax esters consisted of a mixture of wax esters of the same carbon number in which the fatty acid moiety ranged from C8 to C18, and the alcohol moiety ranged from C8 to C17. Some wax esters were largely found on the head indicating they may be of a glandular origin. The hydrocarbons consisted of: n-alkanes, C23 to C33; odd-numbered n-alkenes, C27 to C35; and the major components, methyl-branched alkanes, C26 to over C49. Notable components of the methyl-branched alkanes were 2-methyltriacontane, and the novel trimethylalkanes with a single methylene between the first and second branch points, 13,15,19-trimethylhentriacontane and 13,15,21-trimethyltritriacontane.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000167569500021

    View details for PubMedID 11250553

  • Long-term dynamics of the distribution of the invasive Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, and native ant taxa in northern California OECOLOGIA Sanders, N. J., Barton, K. E., GORDON, D. M. 2001; 127 (1): 123-130
  • A trade-off in task allocation between sensitivity to the environment and response time JOURNAL OF THEORETICAL BIOLOGY Pereira, H. M., GORDON, D. M. 2001; 208 (2): 165-184


    Task allocation is the process that adjusts the number of workers in each colony task in response to the environment. There is no central coordination of task allocation; instead workers use local cues from the environment and from other workers to decide which task to perform. We examine two aspects of task allocation: the sensitivity to the environment of task distribution, and the rate of response to environmental changes. We investigate how these two aspects are influenced by: (1) colony size, and (2) behavioral rules used by workers, i.e. how a worker uses cues from the environment and from social interactions with other workers in deciding which task to perform. We show that if workers use social cues in their choice of task, response time decreases with increasing colony size. Sensitivity of task distribution to the environment may decrease or not with colony size, depending on the behavioral rules used by workers. This produces a trade-off in task allocation: short response times can be achieved by increasing colony size, but at the cost of decreased sensitivity to the environment. We show that when a worker's response to social interactions depends on the local environment, sensitivity of task distribution to the environment is not affected by colony size and the trade-off is avoided.

    View details for Web of Science ID 000166507000005

    View details for PubMedID 11162062

  • The effects of interspecific interactions on resource use and behavior in a desert ant OECOLOGIA Sanders, N. J., GORDON, D. M. 2000; 125 (3): 436-443
  • Harvester ants utilize cuticular hydrocarbons in nestmate recognition JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL ECOLOGY Wagner, D., Tissot, M., Cuevas, W., GORDON, D. M. 2000; 26 (10): 2245-2257
  • How resources and encounters affect the distribution of foraging activity in a seed-harvesting ant BEHAVIORAL ECOLOGY AND SOCIOBIOLOGY Brown, M. J., GORDON, D. M. 2000; 47 (3): 195-203
  • Colony age, neighborhood density and reproductive potential in harvester ants OECOLOGIA Wagner, D., GORDON, D. M. 1999; 119 (2): 175-182
  • Behavioral interactions of the invasive Argentine ant with native ant species INSECTES SOCIAUX Human, K. G., Gordon, D. M. 1999; 46 (2): 159-163
  • Task-related differences in the cuticular hydrocarbon composition of harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex barbatus JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL ECOLOGY Wagner, D., Brown, M. J., Broun, P., Cuevas, W., Moses, L. E., Chao, D. L., GORDON, D. M. 1998; 24 (12): 2021-2037
  • Effects of abiotic factors on the distribution and activity of the invasive Argentine ant (Hymenoptera : Formicidae) ENVIRONMENTAL ENTOMOLOGY Human, K. G., Weiss, S., WEISS, A., Sandler, B., GORDON, D. M. 1998; 27 (4): 822-833
  • Effects of Argentine ants on invertebrate biodiversity in northern California CONSERVATION BIOLOGY Human, K. G., GORDON, D. M. 1997; 11 (5): 1242-1248
  • Harvester ant nests, soil biota and soil chemistry OECOLOGIA Wagner, D., Brown, M. J., GORDON, D. M. 1997; 112 (2): 232-236
  • Networking ants NATURAL HISTORY GORDON, D. M. 1997; 106 (8): 26-26
  • Individual specialisation and encounters between harvester ant colonies BEHAVIOUR Brown, M. J., GORDON, D. M. 1997; 134: 849-866
  • The population consequences of territorial behavior TRENDS IN ECOLOGY & EVOLUTION GORDON, D. M. 1997; 12 (2): 63-66


    Many organisms compete for space, or for resource that are linked to space. Territorial behavior in animals is one expression of competition for space. Models of competition for space seek to predict how the arrangement of individuals in a population changes as new individuals appear, others die, and neighbors interact with each other; studies of territorial behaviour examine how neighbor interactions lead animals to establish and maintain their use of space. In recent work on compition for space and on territorial behaviour, there has been a shift from simple, general models to ones that incorporate heterogeneity in the spatial and temporal distribution of resources, and in the ways individuals use resources.

    View details for Web of Science ID A1997WF30400009

    View details for PubMedID 21237974

  • Neighborhood density and reproductive potential in harvester ants OECOLOGIA GORDON, D. M., Wagner, D. 1997; 109 (4): 556-560
  • Exploitation and interference competition between the invasive Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, and native ant species OECOLOGIA Human, K. G., GORDON, D. M. 1996; 105 (3): 405-412