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Arboreal thorn-dwelling ants use domatia morphology to partition nest sites on the savanna ant-plant, Vachellia erioloba

Campbell, H., Fellowes, M. D. E. ORCID: and Cook, J. (2013) Arboreal thorn-dwelling ants use domatia morphology to partition nest sites on the savanna ant-plant, Vachellia erioloba. Insects Sociaux, 60 (3). pp. 373-382. ISSN 1420-9098

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/s00040-013-0307-5


Nest site selection in arboreal, domatia-dwelling ants, particularly those coexisting on a single host plant, is little understood. To examine this phenomenon we studied the African savannah tree Vachellia erioloba, which hosts ants in swollen-thorn domatia. We found four ant species from different genera (Cataulacus intrudens, Tapinoma subtile, Tetraponera ambigua and an unidentified Crematogaster species). In contrast to other African ant plants, many V. erioloba trees (41 % in our survey) were simultaneously co-occupied by more than one ant species. Our study provides quantitative field data describing: (1) aspects of tree and domatia morphology relevant to supporting a community of mutualist ants, (2) how ant species occupancy varies with domatia morphology and (3) how ant colony size varies with domatia size and species. We found that Crematogaster sp. occupy the largest thorns, followed by C. intrudens, with T. subtile in the smallest thorns. Thorn age, as well as nest entrance hole size correlated closely with ant species occupant. These differing occupancy patterns may help to explain the unusual coexistence of three ant species on individual myrmecophytic trees. In all three common ant species, colony size, as measured by total number of ants, increased with domatia size. Additionally, domatia volume and species identity interact to predict ant numbers, suggesting differing responses between species to increased availability of nesting space. The proportion of total ants in nests that were immatures varied with thorn volume and species, highlighting the importance of domatia morphology in influencing colony structure.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:32674

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