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1.  Characterizing the Collective Personality of Ant Societies: Aggressive Colonies Do Not Abandon Their Home 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33314.
Animal groups can show consistent behaviors or personalities just like solitary animals. We studied the collective behavior of Temnothorax nylanderi ant colonies, including consistency in behavior and correlations between different behavioral traits. We focused on four collective behaviors (aggression against intruders, nest relocation, removal of infected corpses and nest reconstruction) and also tested for links to the immune defense level of a colony and a fitness component (per-capita productivity). Behaviors leading to an increased exposure of ants to micro-parasites were expected to be positively associated with immune defense measures and indeed colonies that often relocated to other nest sites showed increased immune defense levels. Besides, colonies that responded with low aggression to intruders or failed to remove infected corpses, showed a higher likelihood to move to a new nest site. This resembles the trade-off between aggression and relocation often observed in solitary animals. Finally, one of the behaviors, nest reconstruction, was positively linked to per-capita productivity, whereas other colony-level behaviors, such as aggression against intruders, showed no association, albeit all behaviors were expected to be important for fitness under field conditions. In summary, our study shows that ant societies exhibit complex personalities that can be associated to the physiology and fitness of the colony. Some of these behaviors are linked in suites of correlated behaviors, similar to personalities of solitary animals.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033314
PMCID: PMC3310061  PMID: 22457751
2.  Jack of All Trades, Master of All: A Positive Association between Habitat Niche Breadth and Foraging Performance in Pit-Building Antlion Larvae 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(3):e33506.
Species utilizing a wide range of resources are intuitively expected to be less efficient in exploiting each resource type compared to species which have developed an optimal phenotype for utilizing only one or a few resources. We report here the results of an empirical study whose aim was to test for a negative association between habitat niche breadth and foraging performance. As a model system to address this question, we used two highly abundant species of pit-building antlions varying in their habitat niche breadth: the habitat generalist Myrmeleon hyalinus, which inhabits a variety of soil types but occurs mainly in sandy soils, and the habitat specialist Cueta lineosa, which is restricted to light soils such as loess. Both species were able to discriminate between the two soils, with each showing a distinct and higher preference to the soil type providing higher prey capture success and characterizing its primary habitat-of-origin. As expected, only small differences in the foraging performances of the habitat generalist were evident between the two soils, while the performance of the habitat specialist was markedly reduced in the alternative sandy soil. Remarkably, in both soil types, the habitat generalist constructed pits and responded to prey faster than the habitat specialist, at least under the temperature range of this study. Furthermore, prey capture success of the habitat generalist was higher than that of the habitat specialist irrespective of the soil type or prey ant species encountered, implying a positive association between habitat niche-breadth and foraging performance. Alternatively, C. lineosa specialization to light soils does not necessarily confer upon its superiority in utilizing such habitats. We thus suggest that habitat specialization in C. lineosa is either an evolutionary dead-end, or, more likely, that this species' superiority in light soils can only be evident when considering additional niche axes.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033506
PMCID: PMC3305315  PMID: 22438939
3.  Spatial structure and nest demography reveal the influence of competition, parasitism and habitat quality on slavemaking ants and their hosts 
BMC Ecology  2011;11:9.
Background
Natural communities are structured by intra-guild competition, predation or parasitism and the abiotic environment. We studied the relative importance of these factors in two host-social parasite ecosystems in three ant communities in Europe (Bavaria) and North America (New York, West Virginia). We tested how these factors affect colony demography, life-history and the spatial pattern of colonies, using a large sample size of more than 1000 colonies. The strength of competition was measured by the distance to the nearest competitor. Distance to the closest social parasite colony was used as a measure of parasitism risk. Nest sites (i.e., sticks or acorns) are limited in these forest ecosystems and we therefore included nest site quality as an abiotic factor in the analysis. In contrast to previous studies based on local densities, we focus here on the positioning and spatial patterns and we use models to compare our predictions to random expectations.
Results
Colony demography was universally affected by the size of the nest site with larger and more productive colonies residing in larger nest sites of higher quality. Distance to the nearest competitor negatively influenced host demography and brood production in the Bavarian community, pointing to an important role of competition, while social parasitism was less influential in this community. The New York community was characterized by the highest habitat variability, and productive colonies were clustered in sites of higher quality. Colonies were clumped on finer spatial scales, when we considered only the nearest neighbors, but more regularly distributed on coarser scales. The analysis of spatial positioning within plots often produced different results compared to those based on colony densities. For example, while host and slavemaker densities are often positively correlated, slavemakers do not nest closer to potential host colonies than expected by random.
Conclusions
The three communities are differently affected by biotic and abiotic factors. Some of the differences can be attributed to habitat differences and some to differences between the two slavemaking-host ecosystems. The strong effect of competition in the Bavarian community points to the scarcity of resources in this uniform habitat compared to the other more diverse sites. The decrease in colony aggregation with scale indicates fine-scale resource hotspots: colonies are locally aggregated in small groups. Our study demonstrates that species relationships vary across scales and spatial patterns can provide important insights into species interactions. These results could not have been obtained with analyses based on local densities alone. Previous studies focused on social parasitism and its effect on host colonies. The broader approach taken here, considering several possible factors affecting colony demography and not testing each one in isolation, shows that competition and environmental variability can have a similar strong impact on demography and life-history of hosts. We conclude that the effects of parasites or predators should be studied in parallel to other ecological influences.
doi:10.1186/1472-6785-11-9
PMCID: PMC3078833  PMID: 21443778
4.  Increased host aggression as an induced defense against slave-making ants 
Behavioral Ecology  2011;22(2):255-260.
Slave-making ants reduce the fitness of surrounding host colonies through regular raids, causing the loss of brood and frequently queen and worker death. Consequently, hosts developed defenses against slave raids such as specific recognition and aggression toward social parasites, and indeed, we show that host ants react more aggressively toward slavemakers than toward nonparasitic competitors. Permanent behavioral defenses can be costly, and if social parasite impact varies in time and space, inducible defenses, which are only expressed after slavemaker detection, can be adaptive. We demonstrate for the first time an induced defense against slave-making ants: Cues from the slavemaker Protomognathus americanus caused an unspecific but long-lasting behavioral response in Temnothorax host ants. A 5-min within-nest encounter with a dead slavemaker raised the aggression level in T. longispinosus host colonies. Contrarily, encounters with nonparasitic competitors did not elicit aggressive responses toward non-nestmates. Increased aggression can be adaptive if a slavemaker encounter reliably indicates a forthcoming attack and if aggression increases postraid survival. Host aggression was elevated over 3 days, showing the ability of host ants to remember parasite encounters. The response disappeared after 2 weeks, possibly because by then the benefits of increased aggression counterbalance potential costs associated with it.
doi:10.1093/beheco/arq191
PMCID: PMC3071747  PMID: 22476194
aggression; behavior; parasites; phenotypic plasticity; social insects

Results 1-4 (4)