Summary from the authors: Species-level predation network uncovers high prey specificity in a Neotropical army ant community

Mass raiding army ants fascinated biologists ever since naturalists such as Bates and Darwin wrote about their behavior. Despite this profound human interest and the ecological importance of army ants as top arthropod predators in tropical forests, basic aspects of their biology still remain unknown. With up to 20 sympatric army ant species, certain tropical regions show high local army ant diversity and abundance. We asked how so many top arthropod predators can co-exist? We tackled this question by conducting a large-scale dietary survey of 11 army ant species in one Costa Rican location, i.e. La Selva Biological Station. We identified prey items morphologically, if possible, and via DNA barcoding in difficult cases (e.g., prey larvae). We were thus able construct a high-resolution species-level predation network. Army ant prey nearly exclusively consisted of other ants with 129 ant species being detected among prey. This is roughly 1/4th of all known ant species in this particular area. Most importantly, ecological network analyses revealed a high degree of dietary specialization in army ants, which was accompanied by differentiated prey niches between species. In summary, our results help to explain the coexistence of many army ant species in certain tropical regions. – Philipp Hönle, Technische Universität Darmstadt

Army ant (Nomamyrmex esenbeckii, left) fighting against a leafcutter ant (Acromyrmex, right) while raiding their nest. Photo courtesy of Philipp Hönle.

Hoenle, Philipp O., Nico Blüthgen, Adrian Brückner, Daniel JC Kronauer, Brigitte Fiala, David A. Donoso, M. Alex Smith, Bryan Ospina Jara, and Christoph von Beeren. “Species‐level predation network uncovers high prey specificity in a Neotropical army ant community.” Molecular Ecology. 2019. 28:9 2423-2440.

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