Eur. J. Entomol. 107 (2): 209-218, 2010 | 10.14411/eje.2010.028

Present conservation status of red wood ants in north-western Belgium: Worse than previously, but not a lost cause

Wouter DEKONINCK1,2, Frederik HENDRICKX1,2, Patrick GROOTAERT1, Jean-Pierre MAELFAIT2,3,†
1 Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Entomology Department, Vautierstraat 29, B-1000 Brussels, Belgium; e-mail: wdekoninck@natuurwetenschappen.be
2 Terrestrial Ecology Unit, Ghent University, K.L. Ledeganckstraat 35, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium
3 Research Institute for Nature and Forest, Kliniekstraat 25, B-1070 Brussels, Belgium

The number of colonies of red wood ants (Formica rufa group) in the north western part of Belgium has declined by more than half over the past 20 years. In the study area of 20 50 km there are currently only 36 colonies of two species of red wood ants (Formica rufa and F. polyctena). Both species form both monodomous and polydomous colonies. Monodomous F. rufa colonies occur in large areas of open woodland dominated by Pinus sylvestris. The other three types of red wood ant (F. rufa polydomous, F. polyctena mono- and polydomous) occur in clearings or along the margins of small areas of deciduous or mixed woodland. The extinction of red wood ants cannot be attributed to a loss of their main habitat. Their decline in abundance, however, appears to be due to the deterioration in their habitat caused by several factors. Shading by overgrowing shrubs and the closure of the tree canopy, nearby intensive agriculture, urbanisation and use of the forest for recreation are the more important factors threatening and ultimately leading to the extinction of colonies. At poor quality sites there are no or very few nests of Serviformica ants, which initially serve as host ants and are necessary for recolonization by red wood ants. Thus, it is unlikely that these sites will be recolonized. To conserve red wood ants and maintain populations there is an urgent need to undertake certain measures, especially in areas outside nature reserves. For this there is a need to create clearings in the woodland, reduce shading due to overgrowing shrubs and closure of the tree canopy, and mitigate the effects of intensive agriculture, urbanisation and recreation. It is important that the effects of these measures should be monitored.

Keywords: Red wood ants, conservation, disturbance mitigation, Serviformica, social organisation, habitat preference

Received: April 4, 2009; Accepted: December 18, 2009; Published: April 15, 2010

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