Lehrstuhl für Zoologie / Evolutionsbiologie
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Like many, I was fascinated by ants as a child. Ant colonies always seem to be so bustling and chaotic, but if you take a closer look you will quickly notice how organized their structures are. Therefore, it was always clear to me that I wanted to know more about the behaviour of ants and how they interact with other individuals.
At the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz I studied the behaviour of ants in the Institute of Organismic and Molecular Evolution under Prof. Dr. Foitzik. I also completed my bachelor's degree in the IOME but under the direction of Dr. Christoph Grüter. In my bachelor's project I gained a deeper insight into the recruitment behaviour (tandem running) of the ant species Temnothorax nylanderi. I found that tandem pairs, whose body size difference was too large, exhibited impaired communication, which resulted in a less efficient tandem run. In case you are interested, these results were published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology:
Wagner, T., Bachenberg, L., Glaser, S.M. et al. Large body size variation is associated with low communication success in tandem running ants. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 75, 4 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-020-02941-x
I continued to focus on ant behaviour in my master's project at the same institute, this time with Dr. Romain Libbrecht, who gave me even more space for my own developed experiments. For my Master thesis my gaze fell on the reproduction behaviour of T. nylanderi in queenless colonies. There have been references in various earlier publications that different species of ants have different reproductive strategies when the queen is no longer in the nest but at the same time her larvae remained present. We showed that T. nylanderi workers laid more eggs when the larvae of the former queen were still present. Furthermore, we showed that specifically larval food was transmitted to the workers via trophallaxis, which may be the reason why the workers were able to lay more eggs with the larvae being present. In addition to the usual behavioural methods, I also learned in this project how to use fluorescent microscopy, CHC-profiling, and PCR.
As a new doctoral researcher in the ACElab, I am using my experience of these previous projects to drive individual and collective preference in invasive ants like the Argentine ants (Linepithema humile). This project, together with Henrique's, could provide us with a future tool for pest control in nature.