GradImpact: Studying Animal Behavior to Determine How Personality Is Shaped

    Our personalities – characteristics or qualities that form our character – are, in part, what make us unique individuals. Peter Marting, a doctoral candidate in animal behavior in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University, has discovered that ant colonies have unique personalities, too.


    Azteca ant colonies make their homes in Cecropia trees, which provide nutrients to the ants. In exchange, the ants act as security guards – protecting trees from choking vines and leaf-eating insects – but some colonies are better protectors than others. Marting’s research reveals that ant colonies actively displaying more aggressive behaviors protect their trees more from leaf damage than more docile colonies. Why is this important? Marting wants to better understand how the personality of an ant colony can affect its symbiotic relationships and whether there are identifiable factors that determine personality.


    Studying animal personalities is a relatively new field and observing animals in the wild can be extremely difficult given the challenges in observing consistent behavior in the same animal. However, the study system Marting uses allows him to revisit the same trees with the same colonies on a regular basis over the course of months and years. Marting takes his research one step further through a marriage with artistic expression. He has created interactive sculptures representing the ants and plants that blink with data collected from real ant colonies. To learn more about Peter’s work, visit the Arizona State University website.


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    Photo Credit: Peter Marting


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