, Volume 98, Issue 12, pp 1009–1017 | Cite as

Temperature limits trail following behaviour through pheromone decay in ants

  • Louise van Oudenhove
  • Elise Billoir
  • Raphaël Boulay
  • Carlos Bernstein
  • Xim Cerdá
Original Paper


In Mediterranean habitats, temperature affects both ant foraging behaviour and community structure. Many studies have shown that dominant species often forage at lower temperature than subordinates. Yet, the factors that constrain dominant species foraging activity in hot environments are still elusive. We used the dominant ant Tapinoma nigerrimum as a model species to test the hypothesis that high temperatures hinder trail following behaviour by accelerating pheromone degradation. First, field observations showed that high temperatures (> 30°C) reduce the foraging activity of T. nigerrimum independently of the daily and seasonal rhythms of this species. Second, we isolated the effect of high temperatures on pheromone trail efficacy from its effect on worker physiology. A marked substrate was heated during 10 min (five temperature treatments from 25°C to 60°C), cooled down to 25°C, and offered in a test choice to workers. At hot temperature treatments (>40°C), workers did not discriminate the previously marked substrate. High temperatures appeared therefore to accelerate pheromone degradation. Third, we assessed the pheromone decay dynamics by a mechanistic model fitted with Bayesian inference. The model predicted ant choice through the evolution of pheromone concentration on trails as a function of both temperature and time since pheromone deposition. Overall, our results highlighted that the effect of high temperatures on recruitment intensity was partly due to pheromone evaporation. In the Mediterranean ant communities, this might affect dominant species relying on chemical recruitment, more than subordinate ant species, less dependent on chemical communication and less sensitive to high temperatures.


Ant foraging behaviour Bayesian inference Mechanistic model Mediterranean ant community Tapinoma nigerrimum Trail pheromone 



We are very grateful to Alain Lenoir for his early review of this manuscript. We thank Jean-Philippe Lessard and Ana Carvajal who helped during field ant collection, Javier Retana, Jordi Bosch, Sebastià Cros and Anna Alsina who provided the field data, two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and Nicolas van Oudenhove for revising the English. Doñana National Park and Sierra Nevada National Park authorities gave permission to collect ant colonies. Experimental work in EBD has been funded by Spanish Ministerio de Ciencia e Inovación (projects CGL2009-09690/BOS and CGL2009-12472/BOS). This work conforms to the legal requirements of the Spanish law.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Louise van Oudenhove
    • 1
    • 2
  • Elise Billoir
    • 1
  • Raphaël Boulay
    • 2
    • 3
  • Carlos Bernstein
    • 1
  • Xim Cerdá
    • 2
  1. 1.Université de Lyon, F-69000, Lyon; Université Lyon 1CNRS, UMR5558, Laboratoire de Biométrie et Biologie EvolutiveVilleurbanneFrance
  2. 2.Estación Biológica de Doñana, CSICSevillaSpain
  3. 3.Departamento de Biología Animal, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de GranadaGranadaSpain

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