Dr. Laure-Anne Poissonnier
Decision-making in insects, from foraging in ants to mate choice in Drosophila
Just like us, insects need to make decisions. Making the wrong decision can have dire consequences on their fitness and survival. However, can insects make accurate choices in complex situations, and what affects these choices?
My research has mainly focused on collective decision-making during foraging situations in ants and termites. More recently, I have also been interested in factors influencing mating decisions in Drosophila. The regulation of nutrition in insect colonies present an interesting challenge, as the survival of the group relies on the efforts of only a small number of individual foragers. These foragers do not possess a direct knowledge of the colony’s nutritional state, yet studies show that they are able to regulate their foraging effort and their food intake to meet the varying needs of their nestmates. During my Masters, we demonstrated that Argentine ants do not experience traffic jams when foraging, and during my PhD we showed that termites appear to be the first animals studied so far that fail to reach their nutrient intake when having to choose between different food sources. In my last postdoctoral position, I discovered a cognitive bias in Drosophila: female mating behaviour depends on previous experience, i.e. on the ‘quality’ of the males that females have been exposed to.
In the Animal Comparative Economics group I will investigate the cognitive abilities of ants to solve challenging foraging tasks. My work will focus on three major projects:
Inference in insects: can ants infer what other workers will do?
Individual and collective nutritional matching: are nutritional targets for ant colonies met due to individual level behaviour, colony-level responses, or a mixture of both?
The link between self control and tool use in ants
Many thanks to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation for their support!