Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) are often considered to be “keystone” arthropods in terrestrial ecosystems because of the combination of their typically high abundances and prominent functional roles in biological control of plant pests, in habitat alteration, and in nutrient recycling (e.g., Hölldobler and Wilson, 1990). Comprising as much as 80% of the arthropods in tropical rain forest canopies (Davidson and Patrell-Kim, 1996; Tobin, 1995), ants were once thought to feed mainly as predators of canopy arthropods (Floren and Linsenmair, 2002). However, this conjecture conflicted with observations that their abundance and biomass regularly exceeded those of their supposed prey (Davidson et al., 2003, summarizing “Tobin’s ant biomass paradox”). Further suggesting that canopy ants could feed at lower trophic levels, stable isotope analyses (δ15N values) revealed that they might even be herbivorous (Davidson et al. 2003; Blüthgen et al. 2003).
Voluntary Self-Sacrifice in Exploding Ants: a mechanism to defend co-evolved microbiomes?
The mechanisms by which organisms compete for territory and resources are key processes in ecology. The carpenter ants in the Camponotus (Colobopsis) cylindricus complex (‘COCY’, or exploding ants), that dominate arboreal habitats in rain forests on Borneo, have evolved a so-far unique and remarkable behaviour: In territorial combat with enemy ants and other arthropods they sacrifice themselves by rupturing (autothysis) and releasing sticky and irritant contents of their hypertrophied mandibular glands to kill rivals.
WWTF project team members (right to left):
- Dr. Irina Druzhinina, VUT
- Mag. Alice Laciny, NHM-Wien
- Dr. Herbert Zettel, NHM-Wien
- Mag. Alexey Kopchinskiy VUT
- Dr. Rainer Schuhmacher, IFA Tulln
- DI. Alexandra Parich, IFA Tulln
- Mag. Michaela Fischer, IFA Tulln
- Mag. Carina Pretzer, VUT
- Mohd Safwan Suhaimy, UBD