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Duane Jackson, PhD
The goal of this project was to develop a behavioral measure, at the colony level for aggression in subterranean termites Reticultermes spp. Also to look for genetic correlates for aggression, based on genetic similarity and dissimilarity, and level of aggression, based on behavioral measure in Reticultermes flavipes. This was a collaborative effort between Morehouse College and Georgia Tech. The behavioral analysis was done at Morehouse and the genetic work was done at Georgia Tech.
At Morehouse College for 18 months we studied nine colonies of termites, four colonies were from the campus of University of Georgia and five colonies were from Sapelo Island Georgia. We looked at 20 workers at a time, 10 under the experimental condition and 10 under the control condition in two separate Petri dishes. We had three independent variables- number of ants (1 or 2), ant status (dead or alive), and termite soldier (present or absent). The difference between the experimental group and the control group is that for the control group the ants were dead and for the experimental group the ants were alive. We video taped the arena containing the controls and the experimentals and code the data using the Observer@ software. Each test was 15 minutes. We focused on eight behaviors in regard to termite workers interaction with ants during these fifteen minute periods- number of bites/ant, number of latchings/ant (worker bites down on ant and maintains this bite hold for more than two seconds), number of contacts/ant, number of rapid oscillatory vibrations (ROV), mean latch duration, bite latency, latch latency and contact latency. Latency is operationally defined as the time between the on set of the test and when the behavior first occurred. We found significant differences within colonies between the controls (dead ants) and experimentals (live ants) in regard to number of bites, number of latchings, mean latch duration and bite latency. But more importantly we found differences among colonies (experimentals) for number of latches/ant and contact latency. Also my Lab Assistances Cortes, Andres & Caliman, Alisha presented a paper at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Research Conference for Minority Students (ABRCMS) in Orlando, Florida November 2008 titled, “The search for the genetic basis of aggression in termites Reticultermes sp”. This paper won an award for outstanding research at this conference. This paper focused on the latching and biting behavior.
Based on our results, we are developing a model that will give us a measure for aggression at the colony level. We are excited about this in that the vast majority of scales for aggression, in non human animals, are based on few behaviors and designed to measure aggression on the individual level. This measure will be based on eight measures and will be at the colony level. We plan to test at least ten more colonies and based on this work we plan to submit a paper on a colonial measure of aggression for social insects.