Jesse Starkey


Jesse StarkeyDoes resource availability and juvenile hormone affect worker task in the invasive ant, Solenopsis invicta?

 One of the key aspects of eusocial insects, division of labor, determines which group performs certain tasks within a colony. Whether this is reproduction, tending to brood, or foraging, it can be controlled by many factors such as caste, young, nest conditions, or the environment. In some eusocial insects, worker castes have completely lost their ability to reproduce, yet still show expression in certain reproductive genes such as vitellogenin. These genes have also been associated with task allocation and age polyethism. In the invasive red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, where workers can no longer reproduce, not much is known on how worker task is allocated. However, workers still show expression of vitellogenin despite this. Therefore, I predict that vg expression, along with an associated hormone, Juvenile Hormone (JH), act as indicators of worker task allocation in Solenopsis invicta. In my project, I observe how JH alters aspects of foraging behavior, as well as how nest conditions, such as resource availability and presence of young, can alter task allocation, based on these genes. So far, I have shown that when treated with a JH analog, S-hydroprene, nurse workers prefer conditions more associated with foraging rather than the nest, as well as an indifference to foraging behavior based on phototaxis. The intent of this project is to gain more of an understanding on how worker task allocation is controlled in S. invicta, with the intent of using it as a method of control for this invasive pest.

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