Effects of group size on aggregation against desiccation in woodlice (Isopoda: Oniscidea)

Authors

  • Pierre Broly,

    Corresponding author
    1. Université Lille Nord de France, Lille, France
    2. Laboratoire Ecologie & Biodiversité, UCLILLE, FLST, Lille, France
    3. Unité d'Ecologie Sociale, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Campus de la Plaine, Bruxelles, Belgium
    • Correspondence: Pierre Broly, Laboratoire Ecologie & Biodiversité, 83 Boulevard Vauban, 59000 Lille, France. Tel.: +32 2 650 57 76; e-mail: pierre.broly@icl-lille.fr

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  • Laëtitia Devigne,

    1. Université Lille Nord de France, Lille, France
    2. Laboratoire Ecologie & Biodiversité, UCLILLE, FLST, Lille, France
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  • Jean-Louis Deneubourg,

    1. Unité d'Ecologie Sociale, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Campus de la Plaine, Bruxelles, Belgium
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  • Cédric Devigne

    1. Université Lille Nord de France, Lille, France
    2. Laboratoire Ecologie & Biodiversité, UCLILLE, FLST, Lille, France
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Abstract

Aggregation in terrestrial isopods, a behaviour that results in the formation of dense clusters, is readily accepted as a mechanism of resistance to desiccation. Thus, aggregation is considered to be an adaptation to terrestrial life in this fully terrestrial suborder of crustaceans. In the present study of Porcellio scaber Latreille, a cosmopolitan species, individual water loss is investigated experimentally as a function of the size of the aggregates and, for the first time, over a large range of group sizes (groups of 1, 10, 20, 40, 60, 80 and 100 individuals). From the perspective of an isolated individual, aggregation behaviour is effective in reducing the rate of water loss whatever the group size, and reduces the individual water loss rate by more than half in large groups. However, the water loss rate of an individual follows a power law according to group size. Accordingly, if the addition of individuals to small groups strongly reduces the water losses per individual, adding individuals to large groups only slightly reduces the individual water losses. Thus, the successful reduction of the water loss rate by this aggregation behaviour is confirmed, although only up to a certain limit, particularly if the number of individuals per aggregate exceeds 50–60 under the experimental conditions used in the present study. Moreover, the individual surface area exposed to the air, as a function of group size, follows a similar pattern (i.e. a similar power law). Thus, a geometrical explanation is proposed for the nonlinear water losses in woodlice aggregates. These results are discussed in relation to the group sizes observed both in the laboratory and the field.

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