The Relationship between Canopy Cover and Colony Size of the Wood Ant Formica lugubris - Implications for the Thermal Effects on a Keystone Ant Species

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Chen, Yi-Huei ; Robinson, Elva J. H. (2014)
  • Publisher: Public Library of Science
  • Journal: PLoS ONE, volume 9, issue 12 (issn: 1932-6203, eissn: 1932-6203)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116113, pmc: PMC4281126
  • Subject: Ants | Research Article | Habitats | Collective Animal Behavior | Ecology and Environmental Sciences | Global Change Ecology | Ecology | Animals | Biology and Life Sciences | Behavioral Ecology | Animal Behavior | Arthropoda | Environmental Impacts | Medicine | Insects | Ecophysiology | Q | R | Hymenoptera | Science | Entomology | Organisms | Forest Ecology | Invertebrates | Zoology | Terrestrial Ecology

Climate change may affect ecosystems and biodiversity through the impacts of rising temperature on species' body size. In terms of physiology and genetics, the colony is the unit of selection for ants so colony size can be considered the body size of a colony. For polydomous ant species, a colony is spread across several nests. This study aims to clarify how climate change may influence an ecologically significant ant species group by investigating thermal effects on wood ant colony size. The strong link between canopy cover and the local temperatures of wood ant's nesting location provides a feasible approach for our study. Our results showed that nests were larger in shadier areas where the thermal environment was colder and more stable compared to open areas. Colonies (sum of nests in a polydomous colony) also tended to be larger in shadier areas than in open areas. In addition to temperature, our results supported that food resource availability may be an additional factor mediating the relationship between canopy cover and nest size. The effects of canopy cover on total colony size may act at the nest level because of the positive relationship between total colony size and mean nest size, rather than at the colony level due to lack of link between canopy cover and number of nests per colony. Causal relationships between the environment and the life-history characteristics may suggest possible future impacts of climate change on these species.
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