, Volume 55, Issue 5, pp 484-493

Ecology of Leptothorax ants: impact of food, nest sites, and social parasites

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In a long-term field manipulation, we demonstrate strong reactions of Leptothorax longispinosus ant colonies to food- and nest-site supplementation. Demographic and genetic responses varied over small geographic scales, and the two ecological factors interacted with the presence of the social parasite Protomognathus americanus. We conducted a 2×2 experiment in three blocks and found that the blocks, which were less than 100 m apart, reacted very differently to the treatments. Blocks differed in degree of polygyny, intranest relatedness, colony size, productivity, and sexual investment. Furthermore, these differences were associated with the presence of slave-making ants and the local availability of nest sites. Nest-site supplementation had a strong effect only in the site with the highest prevalence of social parasites, influencing there the density and investment patterns of colonies. L. longispinosus ants in the least parasitized area were strongly affected by both food- and nest-site supplementation. There, food supplementation led to a decrease in the number of queens per colony and consequently to an increase in intranest relatedness, while colonies in nest-site-supplemented areas invested fewer resources in males and produced a female-biased allocation ratio. By contrast, in a third block with a very low intracolonial relatedness, food supplementation induced an absolute and relative higher investment in males. We conclude that ecological factors influencing social organization in insect societies cannot be studied in isolation, because the interactions among factors produce far richer responses than any one variable.

Communicated by L. Sundström