Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 58, Issue 3, pp 299–308 | Cite as

Choice of nest site protects army ant colonies from environmental extremes in tropical montane forest

  • T. W. SoareEmail author
  • S. I. Tully
  • S. K. Willson
  • D. J. C. Kronauer
  • S. O’Donnell


Unlike most social insects, Eciton burchellii army ants cannot thermoregulate through nest construction. Instead, army ants thermoregulate behaviorally by creating a living nest (bivouac), shifting its position and structure, and potentially through nest site selection. We hypothesized that bivouac site selection is critical to E. burchellii colony survival. We predicted elevation above sea level, with associated variation in local abiotic environments, would affect bivouac site selection by E. burchellii colonies. We also expected nest sites to buffer against ambient variation in abiotic conditions. We recorded bivouac site choice by E. burchellii colonies at sites ranging from lowland wet forests to montane forests and reviewed previously published data. We measured microclimatic variables associated with nest sites in high-elevation montane forests: temperature, relative humidity, and light levels. Bivouac site selection varied with elevation: as elevation increased, fewer bivouac sites were exposed, more were underground, and fewer were elevated (in trees). High-elevation bivouac sites moderated diurnal temperature variation and had higher relative humidity levels and lower light levels than ambient conditions. The buffering of ambient temperature and humidity decreased with elevation in montane forests, suggesting that abiotic extremes in bivouac sites at the highest elevations may contribute to the upper elevational range limits of E. burchellii.


Thermoregulation Nest site selection House-hunting Eciton burchellii Bivouac 



Yamile Molina, the UW Biology Manuscript Writing Course, and two anonymous referees made helpful comments on earlier drafts. We thank the Stuckey family, the Rockwell family, the Monteverde Conservation League, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Monteverde Butterfly Garden, and the University of Georgia station at San Luis for allowing us to work on their lands. Various residents of Monteverde, especially the Joyce-van Dusen family, and the Monteverde Institute provided logistical support. Funding was provided by NSF grants IBN 0347315 and IOS 0923680 and a Research Experiences for Undergraduates supplement to S.O’D. Field research was conducted under permits from the Costa Rican government (MINAE scientific passport #04303), and in accordance with the laws of Costa Rica. S.K.W. acknowledges funding support by the Teagle Foundation, Trans World Airlines (TWA), a Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) Fellowship, the Organization for American States (OAS), a Ford-Knight Fellowship through Earlham College, and a Center for International and Intercultural Studies (CIIS) Fellowship through St. Lawrence University. D.J.C.K. thanks Edith Rodríguez and John Lattke for help during fieldwork, and Koos Boomsma and the Danish Research Training Council for research support.


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Copyright information

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

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. W. Soare
    • 1
    Email author
  • S. I. Tully
    • 1
  • S. K. Willson
    • 2
  • D. J. C. Kronauer
    • 3
  • S. O’Donnell
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologySt. Lawrence UniversityCantonUSA
  3. 3.Museum of Comparative Zoology LabsHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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