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Ant Responses To Social Isolation Resemble Those of Humans

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Phys.Org: Ants react to social isolation in a similar way as do humans and other social mammals. A study by an Israeli-German research team has revealed alterations to the social and hygienic behavior of ants that had been isolated from their group. The research team was particularly surprised by the fact that immune and stress genes were downregulated in the brains of the isolated ants. […] While the effects of isolation have been extensively studied in social mammals such as humans and mice, less is known about how social insects respond in comparable situations — even though they live in highly evolved social systems. Ants, for instance, live their entire lives as members of the same colony and are dependent on their colony mates. The worker ants relinquish their own reproductive potential and devote themselves to feeding the larvae, cleaning and defending the nest, and searching for food, while the queen does little more than just lay eggs.

The research team looked at the consequences of social isolation in the case of ants of the species Temnothorax nylanderi. These ants inhabit cavities in acorns and sticks on the ground in European forests, forming colonies of a few dozen workers. Young workers engaged in brood care were taken singly from 14 colonies and kept in isolation for varying lengths of time, from one hour to a maximum of 28 days. The study was conducted between January and March 2019 and highlighted three particular aspects in which changes were observed. After the end of their isolation, the workers were less interested in their adult colony mates, but the length of time they spent in brood contact increased; they also spent less time grooming themselves. […] While the study revealed significant changes in the behaviors of the isolated insects, its findings with regard to gene activity were even more striking: Many genes related to immune system function and stress response were downregulated. In other words, these genes were less active. “This finding is consistent with studies on other social animals that demonstrated a weakening of the immune system after isolation,” said Professor Inon Scharf. The study has been published in the journal Molecular Ecology.

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