Conservation Genetics

, Volume 15, Issue 4, pp 853–868 | Cite as

Population genetics of Formica aquilonia wood ants in Scotland: the effects of long-term forest fragmentation and recent reforestation

  • Tytti Vanhala
  • Kevin Watts
  • Stuart A’Hara
  • Joan CottrellEmail author
Research Article


Formica aquilonia wood ants are forest specialists which play a key role in the ecology of forests in Europe. Many of the Scottish populations at the edge of the species distribution range occur in highly fragmented landscapes. We used ten microsatellite loci to study the genetic diversity and structure of populations from two contrasting regions (Inverpolly and the Trossachs) to set the Scottish populations in the context of conspecific populations in mainland Europe. Historically, both study regions have experienced extreme habitat loss and fragmentation over several centuries. Inverpolly has remained fragmented whereas large scale reforestation over the last century has greatly increased the forested area in the Trossachs. Despite the long history of fragmentation, genetic diversity in the Scottish populations was greater than in the populations in mainland Europe. Genetic diversity was similar in the two Scottish regions and no evidence of inbreeding was detected. However, the populations in Inverpolly showed more evidence of genetic bottlenecks, possibly due to more frequent stochastic events such as moorland fires. The ant populations in individual forests were genetically distinct and we detected no contemporary gene flow between forests. The most intensively studied forest where non-native conifer plantations now occupy the matrix between the remaining ancient woodland fragments showed evidence that admixture and gene flow between nests was reducing the past differentiation. This may reflect a dynamic response to the reconnection of previously isolated populations in forest fragments by recent reforestation.


Fragmentation Reforestation Gene flow Genetic diversity Relatedness 



We are grateful to Jonathan Hughes at Scottish Wildlife Trust for early discussions and advice on site selection and Alice Broome at Forest Research for advice on wood ant ecology. We thank David Anderson for assisting us to locate nests in the Trossachs. We are also indebted to the two anonymous reviewers for their excellent comments and advice. The study was financed by the Forestry Commission.

Supplementary material

10592_2014_584_MOESM1_ESM.doc (509 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 509 kb)
10592_2014_584_MOESM2_ESM.doc (1.4 mb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 1,393 kb)


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Copyright information

© Crown Copyright as represented by the Forest Research 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tytti Vanhala
    • 1
    • 3
  • Kevin Watts
    • 2
  • Stuart A’Hara
    • 3
  • Joan Cottrell
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.VanhalytixKnivstaSweden
  2. 2.Forest Research, Alice HoltEnglandUK
  3. 3.Forest Research, Northern Research StationScotlandUK

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