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Ecological consequences of colony structure in dynamic ant nest networks

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JournalEcology and Evolution
Journal publication date24 Jan 2017
Volume7
Pages (from-to)1170–1180
Early online date12/12/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Access to resources depends on an individual’s position within the
environment. This is particularly important to animals that invest heavily in
nest construction, such as social insects. Many ant species have a
polydomous nesting strategy: a single colony inhabits several spatially
separated nests, often exchanging resources between the nests. Different
nests in a polydomous colony potentially have differential access to
resources, but the ecological consequences of this are unclear. In this
study, we investigate how nest survival and budding in polydomous wood
ant (Formica lugubris) colonies are affected by being part of a multi-nest
system. Using field data and novel analytical approaches combining
survival models with dynamic network analysis, we show that the survival
and budding of nests within a polydomous colony is affected by their
position in the nest-network structure. Specifically, we find that the flow of
resources through a nest, which is based on its position within the wider
nest-network, determines a nest’s likelihood of surviving, and of founding
new nests. Our results highlight how apparently disparate entities in a
biological system can be integrated into a functional ecological unit. We
also demonstrate how position within a dynamic network structure can
have important ecological consequences.

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