Composition and Trophic Structure of Detrital Food Web in Ant Nest Mounds of Formica aquilonia and in the Surrounding Forest Soil

  • Laakso J
  • Setälä H
  • Setala H
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Abstract

Community composition and food web structure of soil decomposer biota in relation to various habitat properties were compared between upper parts of red wood ant (Formica aquilonia) nest mounds and the adjacent forest soil. For a description of trophic structure of the decomposer community in the two habitats, soil decomposers were classified into 14 trophic groups. Classification of the taxa into three habitat preference categories resulted in a clear division of the fauna into either soil or nest specialists, relatively few taxa falling between these two groups. A large majority of the nest specialists belonged to a non-myrmecophilous soil decomposer fauna so far largely overlooked in studies on ant-invertebrate associations. Trophic organisation of the nest mound community differed clearly from that in the soil by having considerably larger biomass at the base of the food web, and less large predators - other than ants - at the top of the web. Contrary to forest soils, the clear dominance of bacterial feeding microfauna over the fungal feeding microfauna in the nest mounds suggests that most of the energy passing through the food web is channelled through a bacterial-based food-web compartment in the nest mounds. Relatively constant temperature and moisture in the nest surface, continuous energy input by the ants to the nests, and ant-induced reduction in predation pressure on macropredators are suggested to be responsible for the development of the typical decomposer community structure in the nest mounds. Thus, the food-web dynamics in ant nest mounds represent an interesting case in which the behaviour of an invertebrate species (i.e. the ant) has a potential to control the development of a system-level organisation. The high biomass of microbi-detritivorous animals, espe- cially earthworms, in the nest mounds suggests that the activities of the decomposer fauna may feed back to the structure of nest mound and indirectly alter the performance of the ant colony. J.

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Authors

  • Jouni Laakso

  • Heikki Setälä

  • Heikki Setala

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