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Biol Lett. Jun 23, 2010; 6(3): 329–332.
Published online Jan 13, 2010. doi:  10.1098/rsbl.2009.0849
PMCID: PMC2880046
The police are not the army: context-dependent aggressiveness in a clonal ant
M. Benjamin Barth,* Katrin Kellner, and Jürgen Heinze
Biologie I, Universität Regensburg, 93040 Regensburg, Germany
*Author for correspondence (benjamin.barth/at/
Present address: Department of Biology, Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Hoher Weg 4, 06099 Halle (Saale), Germany.
Received October 16, 2009; Accepted December 10, 2009.
Animals often exhibit particular ‘personalities’, i.e. their behaviour is correlated across different situations. Recent studies suggest that this limitation of behavioural plasticity may be adaptive, since continuous adjustment of one's behaviour may be time-consuming and costly. In social insects, particularly aggressive workers might efficiently take over fighting in the contexts of both nest defence and ‘policing’, i.e. the regulation of kin conflict in the society. Here, we examine whether workers who engage in aggressive policing in the ant Platythyrea punctata play a prominent role also in nest defence against intruders. The participation of individuals in policing and nest defence was highly skewed and a minority of workers exhibited most of the aggression. Workers who attacked reproductives after experimental colony fusion were less active during nest defence and vice versa. This suggests that workers show situation-dependent behavioural plasticity rather than consistently aggressive personalities.
Keywords: Platythyrea punctata, colony fusion, worker policing, animal personalities, behavioural syndromes
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