Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 57, Issue 3, pp 267–273 | Cite as

Control of nest water losses through building behavior in leaf-cutting ants (Acromyrmex heyeri)

  • M. BollazziEmail author
  • F. Roces
Research Article


Like many ants inhabiting temperate regions, leaf-cutting ant colonies of a number of Acromyrmex species build thatched nests that achieve more stable temperatures than those of the environment. Workers are expected to counteract short-term variations in nest microclimate by modifying the thatch structure, for instance by reducing thatch thickness or by permeating the thatch with openings so as to favor heat exchanges with the outside. Such thermoregulatory responses may compromise the control of nest humidity because of the concomitant water losses resulting from the escape of humid air to the environment. We asked whether water losses through the thatch trigger deposition of nest material as a regulatory response for humidity control. In a laboratory colony of A. heyeri, we defined four equidistant spots on the nest thatch through which losses of air with different humidities were experimentally simulated. The deposition of building material on the spot was recorded as indicative building response. Results showed that material deposition occurred significantly more frequently with higher humidity content of the air leaving the spot. Dry air leaving the nest hardly triggered material deposition. The observation of a continuous turnover of thatch material indicates that the building of a nest thatch is a permanent process, and that short-term responses for the control of nest climate, as the deposition of building material to suppress an outflow of humid air, are guided by specific cues such as the humidity content of the air stream.


Nest climate Desiccation Thatch Leaf-cutting ants Turnover Humidity control 



We thank two anonymous reviewers for thoughtful comments that helped improve the manuscript. This research was supported by funds from the German Research Council (DFG, Grant SFB 554/TP E1) and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD, PhD fellowship granted to MB). We also thank Jenja Kronenbitter and Silvia Cardozo for their help with the video counts, and Annette Laudahn and Adrienne Gerber Kurz for the care of the A. heyeri colony.


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Behavioural Physiology and Sociobiology (Zoology II), BiocenterUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany

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