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A harvester ant responds to habitat fragmentation: Population structure, dispersal strategy, queen number and phenotypic variation

Project Leader
Stauffer Christian, Project Leader
Duration:
15.12.2003-15.09.2006
Type of Research
Applied Research
Project partners
Darmstadt University of Technology, Institut für Zoologie, Karolinenplatz 5, D-64289 Darmstadt, Germany.
Contact person: Prof. Dr. Alfred Buschinger;
Function of the Project Partner: Partner
James Cook University, Queensland, 4811 Townsville, Australia.
Contact person: Prof. Dr. Ross Crozier;
Function of the Project Partner: Partner
Staatliches Museum für Naturkunde Görlitz, Postfach 300154, D-02806 Görlitz, Germany.
Contact person: Dr. Bernhard Seifert;
Function of the Project Partner: Partner
Staff
Steiner Florian, Sub Projectleader (bis 30.11.2006)
Schlick-Steiner Birgit, Sub Projectleader (bis 30.11.2006)
Konrad Heino, Project Staff (bis 15.06.2006)
BOKU Research Units
Institute of Forest Entomology, Forest Pathology and Forest Protection
Funded by
Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung (FWF) , Sensengasse 1, 1090 Wien, Austria
Abstract
Effects of habitat fragmentation

Habitat fragmentation is a ubiquitous phenomenon in today's world. Harvester ants are keystone species. The European harvester ant Messor structor is restricted to near-natural, dry grassland, a type of habitat heavily fragmented in Lower Austria. Colonies of this species can contain one or more queens (monogyny vs. polygyny) and the queens vary in size (queen polymorphism).

Six hypotheses are posed to describe the potential effects of habitat fragmentation on Messor structor populations with respect to population structure, dispersal strategy, queen number and morphological variations of individuals. They include the reduction of genetic variation within the population, the occurrence of inbreeding, an increased production of small gynes, an increased frequency of polygynous colonies and reduced vs. increased morphological variation of workers, gynes and males (competing hypotheses).

An interdisciplinary approach is proposed to test the above hypotheses. This involves a combination of field methods (assessing nest densities, GPS mapping of populations), molecular methods (sequencing of mtDNA and determination of microsatellite allele frequencies), morphology (dissection of gynes, morphometry of workers, gynes and males) and advanced statistical analyses (computation of phylogenetic diversity indices, statistical parsimony network, nested clade analysis, maximum likelihood gene flow analysis).

Beyond merely improving our basic ecological knowledge, the results of this study will foster practical conservation measures.
Keywords
animal ecology; zoology; evolutionary biology; interdisciplinary natural science;
dispersal strategy; conservation genetics; habitat fragmentation; queen polymorphism; population structure;
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