Neural mechanisms of behavioral variation in Temnothorax ants

$2,320
Raised
109%
Funded on 10/07/13
Successfully Funded
  • $2,320
    pledged
  • 109%
    funded
  • Funded
    on 10/07/13

About This Project

In an ant colony, workers perform different tasks to promote the growth and maintenance of the colony without any centralized leader. How do these seemingly simple, tiny creatures display such incredible variation in behavior? What compels them to perform a particular task versus another? My research explores the peripheral and central nervous systems of ants to explain how basic physiological differences can make similar individuals act differently.

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What is the context of this research?

To understand how inter-individual differences in the central and peripheral nervous systems contribute to behavioral variation among worker ants in a colony.

What is the significance of this project?

How the peripheral and central nervous systems collectively contribute to "personalities" among animals is not fully understood. My research uses an organism with a relatively simple nervous system to provide insight into how fundamental differences in central and peripheral neural processes can give rise to significant differences in behavior. Further, my work provides a unique, integrative perspective on how variation in neural physiology at the individual level can give rise to colony-level division of labor. Ultimately, this information can also shed light on how natural selection has targeted individual neural variation to give rise to the successful, stable task allocation mechanisms of social insect societies.

What are the goals of the project?

Funds will be used to purchase antibodies for synapse immunolabeling (to study synaptic density in sensory input and processing regions of the brain) and the use of my university's confocal and scanning electron microscope (to characterize peripheral sensitivity and visualize neuroanatomy of ants). Materials for electroantennograms (to assess peripheral sensitivity), brain dissections and slide preparation will also be purchased with the requested funding.

Budget

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My budget includes the costs of using my university's confocal and scanning electron microscopes and antibodies for synapse immunolabeling. Funding will also be used for other incidentals such as microcentrifuge tubes, pipette tips, filter paper, etc.

Meet the Team

Nicole Elise Fischer
Nicole Elise Fischer
Graduate student

Affiliates

Saint Joseph's University 2009-2012, B.S. University of Arizona 2012-present, PhD student
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Team Bio

I am a second year PhD student in the social insect lab at the University of Arizona where I study neural mechanisms of behavioral variation in ants. Ants are often thought of as simple automatons that reflexively respond to their environment. However, a closer look reveals that they demonstrate a wealth of behaviors -- and demonstrate remarkable inter-individual behavioral variation -- wherein worker ants within a nest will specialize in different tasks associated with nest defense, brood care, foraging and nest building. To understand the basis of this behavioral variation I take a neural approach, exploring how basic sensory perception and integration, at the level of the peripheral and central nervous systems, can create significant differences in behavior. I am also interested in how this behavioral variation is integrated at the colony level to give rise to a stable system of division of labor in insect societies.

Nicole Elise Fischer

I am a second year PhD student in the social insect lab at the University of Arizona where I study neural mechanisms of behavioral variation in ants. Ants are often thought of as simple automatons that reflexively respond to their environment. However, a closer look reveals that they demonstrate a wealth of behaviors -- and demonstrate remarkable inter-individual behavioral variation -- wherein worker ants within a nest will specialize in different tasks associated with nest defense, brood care, foraging and nest building. To understand the basis of this behavioral variation I take a neural approach, exploring how basic sensory perception and integration, at the level of the peripheral and central nervous systems, can create significant differences in behavior. I am also interested in how this behavioral variation is integrated at the colony level to give rise to a stable system of division of labor in insect societies.


Project Backers

  • 12Backers
  • 109%Funded
  • $2,320Total Donations
  • $193.33Average Donation
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