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Date of Award

Spring 2011

Author's School

College of Arts & Sciences

Author's Department/Program

Biology

Abstract

The relationship between individuals within groups and the collective action of groups of organisms in nature has long inspired scientific inquiry. One goal of the Ben-Shahar lab is to understand the mechanism by which individual behaviors are coordinated to result in collective decision-making. My research project studied the extent to which social cognition regulates feeding choices in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. Inspiration for this project comes from prior knowledge that many animals living in groups communicate about the location of resources such as food. This communication is advantageous when resources are scarce. Further, it has been shown that social insects such as ants, termites, and some species of bees and wasps have evolved signaling mechanisms to disseminate information to locate food sources (Dussutour, Nicolis et al. 2009). Drosophila melanogaster is an excellent model organism for the study of complex behaviors such as learning and memory, courtship and food search. Drosophila food search behavior entails groups of flies swarming around and aggregating on food. Previous studies have demonstrated that adult flies do not sample all available food resources when making feeding decisions, suggesting that interactions between flies may influence feeding behavior (Tinette, Zhang et al. 2004). We hypothesized that Drosophila melanogaster use the feeding patterns of other conspecifics to inform their own feeding decisions. To test this hypothesis I implemented several different behavioral assays in which flies were given a choice between food previously exposed to other flies and novel food. Additionally, I conducted experiments to determine whether flies feeding in the same environment tend to disperse or whether they cluster and feed in groups. The results of my experiments agree with previous studies in that they suggest that flies do not appear to feed randomly. These studies contribute to our understanding of the influence of social cues on feeding behavior in flies and demonstrate the utility of this model system in the study of complex behaviors.

Language

English (en)

Advisor/Committee Chair

Yehuda Ben-Shahar