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The paper discusses selected experimental data on behavioural patterns shown by the harvesting ants in response to novel objects, and on behavioural modifications taking place during the process of their familiarization with novel seeds and other objects. Stress is laid on the role of individual experience, dietary history of the colony and innate factors in determining the responses of these ants to seeds. Familiarization with novel objects is also discussed in terms of learning, transient memory, behavioural flexibility, and switching from excited high-tempo behaviour triggered by novel objects to calm low-tempo behaviour observed in familiar situations. Some hypotheses concerning the evolution of behavioural patterns employed by the ants when seizing and transporting various food and nonfood items are also discussed.
In 1997 Manfred Milinski published an influential paper entitled “How to avoid seven deadly sins in the study of behavior” in which he described in detail seven major errors relatively frequently committed during behavioral experiments and discussed their negative consequences. The list of mortal and venial sins in the analysis of behavior is, however, much longer and includes major and minor errors made at all successive steps of behavioral research: designing the experiment, selection and treatment of experimental animals, quantification of their behavior and statistical analysis of behavioral data. If unchecked, such errors may have extremely negative consequences and lead to incorrect conclusions. I will discuss a wide spectrum of examples of such errors taken from literature and from my own experience and discussions with other researchers.
Social insects are increasingly frequently used as experimental subjects by researchers investigating such questions as neurobiological mechanisms underlying learning and memory processes, alcohol and drug addiction and various types of aggression, ageing processes and their reversal, and other forms of phenotypic plasticity. Behavioral methods used in that research are surprisingly rich and sophisticated. I will describe various manipulations of social context known as techniques of social engineering (mostly various forms of partial or complete social deprivation and other modifications of social group size and structure) and their consequences (in particular, expression and/or suppression of specific behavior patterns, and acceleration, retardation or reversion of individual development). I will also discuss some classical and new methods of administration of neuroactive compounds and a wide array of bioassays used to study responses of social insects to unanimate objects, and their aggressive and nonaggressive interactions with conspecific and allospecific individuals. I will also provide some examples showing how these techniques can be used in innovative interdisciplinary research.
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