Large- and Small-Scale Environmental Factors Drive Distributions of Ant Mound Size Across a Latitudinal Gradient

Insects. 2020 Jun 4;11(6):350. doi: 10.3390/insects11060350.


Red wood ants are keystone species of forest ecosystems in Europe. Environmental factors and habitat characteristics affect the size of their nest mounds, an important trait being in concordance with a colony's well-being and impact on its surroundings. In this study, we investigated the effect of large-scale (latitude and altitude) and small-scale environmental factors (e.g., characteristics of the forest) on the size of nest mounds of Formica polyctena in Central Europe. We predicted that the change in nest size is in accordance with Bergmann's rule that states that the body size of endotherm animals increases with the higher latitude and/or altitude. We found that the size of nests increased along the latitudinal gradient in accordance with Bergmann's rule. The irradiation was the most important factor responsible for the changes in nest size, but temperature and local factors, like the perimeter of the trees and their distance from the nest, were also involved. Considering our results, we can better understand the long-term effects and consequences of the fast-changing environmental factors on this ecologically important group. This knowledge can contribute to the planning of forest management tactics in concordance with the assurance of the long-term survival of red wood ants.

Keywords: Bergmann’s rule; Formica polyctena; altitudinal gradient; latitudinal gradient; nest mound.