Complexity of the social environment and behavioural plasticity drive
divergent gene expression in the brain of ant queens
AbstractSocial life and isolation pose a complex suite of challenges to
organisms prompting significant changes in neural state. However,
plasticity in how brains respond to social challenges remains largely
unexplored. The fire ants Solenopsis invicta provide an ideal scenario
for examining this. Fire ant queens may found colonies individually or
in groups of up to 30 queens. Here, we artificially manipulated
availability of nesting sites to test how the brain responds to social
vs. solitary colony founding at two key timepoints, and to group size.
The difference between group and single founding queens involves only 1
gene when behaviour is still plastic and queens can switch from one
modality to another, while hundreds of genes are involved once
behaviours are more canalized. Furthermore, we show that large groups
lead to greater changes in gene expression than small groups, perhaps
due to higher cognitive demands of a more complex social environment.