Jonathan Bacon Project
Chemical Ecology of the Common Meadow Ant Lasius flavus: identification of positive and negative (stop) trail pheromones, and their roles in modifying foraging behaviour in the ant community.
Foraging ants lay down networks of pheromone trails to direct nest mates to food sources. The identification of the different chemical structures of trail pheromones tells scientists how social insects communicate with each other and how the different chemicals can alter insect behaviour. For instance, although some species produce chemicals that attract nest mates to food sources, they can also secrete stop pheromones indicating when the food source is depleted. In many species, such as the ant Lasius flavus, the chemistry of their different trail pheromones still remain to be identified. In this exciting project the student would first identify the structures of mixtures of attractive agents (has been done in other species but not Lasius flavus) and negative stop compounds in Lasius flavus trails. The student would then determine how the colony itself, as well as the abundance and quality of food sources, influences the chemical mixture of the trail pheromones using novel chemical profiling techniques, and examine the roles these substances play in ant collective social behaviours such as the establishment of a foraging trail network, and in colony and species recognition. Working with synthetic chemists at Sussex, the student would begin to synthesise these identified substances and close analogues, and test their efficacy in our well-controlled behavioural assays. Applicants must have an interest in insect behaviour as well as identification of chemical structures, and would suit an individual with either a biological or a chemical background. Training will be given in trace analytical chemistry and chemical profiling methods.
For further project details contact Professor Jonathan Bacon (J.P.Bacon@sussex.ac.uk)