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Response of the foraging behaviour of red wood ants (Formica rufa group) to exclusion from trees

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1 Because of the large numbers within a colony and their aggressive nature, red wood ants (Formica rufa group) have a potential to greatly influence the cold-temperate forest ecosystem. Wood ants are omnivorous and hunt in trees as well as on the forest floor.

2 A field experiment in a mixed forest in central Sweden was carried out to examine (i) the foraging behaviour of wood ants on the forest floor and (ii) the impact of increased numbers of wood ants on the soil fauna. The foraging behaviour of wood ants was manipulated by excluding the ants from their food resources in the tree canopy, with the intention to increase ant activity on the forest floor. To estimate this activity, the number of trees with foraging ants, the numbers of ants going to and from their nests and the prey carried by home-running wood ants were determined during the summer period. Pitfall traps were placed in the soil to determine effects on mobile soil invertebrates.

3 When excluded from local trees, wood ants searched other trees further away from the nests rather than searching more intensively for prey on the forest floor. By contrast to the initial hypothesis, more soil-living prey were caught by ants in the control plots than in the plots where the local trees were not accessible to the wood ants. The proportion of soil-living to tree-living prey tended to be greater in the control plots.

4 In the treated plots (no access to the trees), wood ants had a negative effect on the activity of Linyphiidae spiders. There was little effect of wood ants on other soil invertebrates.

5 This study suggests that the role of wood ants as top predators in the forest soil food-web in central Sweden is limited.

Keywords: Carabidae; collembola; soil animals; soil fauna community; spiders

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Ecology and Environmental Research, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Box 7072, SE-750 07 Uppsala, Sweden

Publication date: August 1, 2003

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