, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 281-292
Date: 06 Nov 2010

The largest animal association centered on one species: the army ant Eciton burchellii and its more than 300 associates

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Abstract

As possibly two of the last true naturalists, Carl Rettenmeyer and his wife Marian dedicated their lives to the study of army ants and their associates. Over the course of 55 years, the Rettenmeyers went on numerous field trips mainly to the Central American tropics and analyzed hundreds of self-collected samples and those sent by a multitude of other scientists, who were inspired by Carl’s enthusiasm. It comes as no surprise that Carl Rettenmeyer became the world’s leading expert on army ant associates. This paper, which the Rettenmeyers nearly completed before Carl’s death in 2009, gives the first comprehensive list of animals known to be found in the company of a single army ant species: Eciton burchellii. The 557 recorded associates range from birds to insects and mites and comprise the largest described animal association centering around one particular species. Although some of these associates may be opportunistic encounters, we are confident that approximately 300 of the recorded species depend on the ants, at least in part, for their existence. The extinction of E. burchellii from any habitat over its vast area of distribution is likely to cause the extinction of numerous associated animals at that site. This overview will hopefully inspire researchers throughout the world to follow in the Rettenmeyers’ footsteps and continue the investigation of army ants and their associates.