Eur. J. Entomol. 112 (4): 688-697, 2015 | 10.14411/eje.2015.077

Organization of honeydew collection by foragers of different species of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): Effect of colony size and species specificity

Tatiana A. NOVGORODOVA
Institute of Systematics and Ecology of Animals, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Frunze str. 11, Novosibirsk 630091, Russia; e-mail: tanovg@yandex.ru

Aphid honeydew is one of the main energy sources for various ants in the temperate zone, nevertheless relatively little is known about the organization of the work of honeydew foragers (aphid milkers). This study focuses on the honeydew collecting strategies used by different ants in steppe and forest multi-species communities in Western Siberia. The behaviour of marked foragers of 12 species (Formica - 7, Lasius - 2, Camponotus - 1, Myrmica - 2) was recorded. Depending on the degree of the aphid milker specialization and degree of protection of the aphids five honeydew collecting strategies of various complexity were distinguished: unspecialized foragers in (I) "unprotected" aphid colonies (attended by ants < 60% of time) and (II) "protected" colonies (attended > 95% of time); (III) low "professional" specialization (ants "on duty" constantly attending aphid colonies); (IV) medium and (V) high "professional" specialization (clear division of tasks: honeydew collecting by "shepherds" and protection of trophobionts by "guards"; and honeydew transportation by "transporters" in V). Task specialization of the honeydew foragers is facultative: different ant taxa demonstrate a certain range of the honeydew collecting strategies of different complexities (Formica - I-V, Lasius - I-II, Camponotus - III, Myrmica - I-II) depending on the needs of their colony. The strategy used by ants did not depend on the species of aphid attended, but is strongly dependent on the species of ant, their colony size, available food resources and seasonality. In summer, the aphid milker specialization becomes more complex as ant colony size increases at both intra- and inter-specific levels and when food is scarce. In autumn Formica s. str. ants, which have the most advanced foraging strategy, adopt a simpler honeydew collecting strategy. Overall, the variety of honeydew foraging strategies seems to reflect the unequal contribution of different ants in forming trophobiotic interactions with aphids.

Keywords: Hymenoptera, Formicidae, ants, aphids, trophobiosis, division of labour, worker teams, foraging strategy, social insects

Received: August 7, 2014; Accepted: June 10, 2015; Prepublished online: July 10, 2015; Published: November 21, 2015

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