Impact of a social parasite on ant host populations depends on host species, habitat and year

Inon Scharf*, Sabine Bauer, Birgit Fischer-Blass, Susanne Foitzik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Parasites often affect the abundance and life-history traits of their hosts. We studied the impact of a social parasite - a slavemaking ant - on host ant communities using two complementary field manipulations. In the first experiment, we analysed the effect of social parasite presence on host populations in one habitat. In a second experiment, conducted in two habitats, we used a cross-fostering design, analysing the effect of sympatric and allopatric social parasites. In the first experiment, host colonies benefited to some extent from residing in parasite-free areas, showing increased total production. Yet, in the second experiment, host colonies in plots containing social parasites were more productive, and this effect was most evident in response to allopatric social parasites. We propose several explanations for these inconsistent results, which are related to environmental variability. The discrepancies between the two habitats can be explained well by ecological variation as a result of differences in altitudes and climate. For example, ant colonies in the colder habitat were larger and, for one host species, colonies were more often polygynous. In addition, our long-term documentation - a total of four measurements of community structure in 6 years - showed temporal variation in abundance and life-history traits of ant colonies, unrelated to the manipulations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-570
Number of pages12
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Host-parasite interactions
  • Life history
  • Local adaptation
  • Predation
  • Social insects
  • Sympatric and allopatric predators


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