Dining decisions: choosing a quality meal in a nice setting - even slime moulds do it 25 February 2010
We all like a top quality meal in a nice setting, but new research by University of Sydney scientists, Dr Tanya Latty and Associate Professor Madeleine Beekman, has found that even simple slime moulds are able to make complex comparisons of food quality and risks in environment, deciding when the lure of a top quality meal overcomes a risky feeding environment.
Dining decisions: the single-celled slime mould, Physarum polycephalum, is able to make complex comparisons between two food options based on the quality difference of the food and riskiness of the feeding environment.
The research, published in the US journal Ecology, shows that the single-celled slime mould, Physarum polycephalum, is able to make complex comparisons between two food options based on the quality difference of the food and riskiness of the feeding environment.
Working in the Behaviour and Genetics of Social Insects Laboratory in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney, Dr Latty led the research on slime mould dining decisions.
"How individuals deal with multiple conflicting demands when they are choosing their food is an important aspect of foraging ecology in living things," explained Dr Latty.
"Yet the body of knowledge we have on foraging behaviour has pretty much ignored neurologically simple organisms, like the slime moulds," said Dr Latty.
"So we set out to see what level of comparison and decision making the slime moulds were capable of when we offered them two different food sources. Slime moulds don't have brains - they don't even have a nervous system. In fact, they are made up of just one big cell."
Exploring their environment by growing branches along a surface - in these experiments on agar, in their natural environment on leaf litter or fallen tree trunks - slime moulds are capable of migrating at a speed of up to five centimetres per hour.
To test dining decision making in the slime moulds, Dr Latty and Associate Professor Beekman offered each slime mould in the experiments two patches of food to choose from, with different qualities of food and different light exposure.