Skip to main content Accessibility help

Is nest temperature an important factor for niche partitioning by leaf-litter ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Bornean rain forests?

  • Dirk Mezger (a1) and Martin Pfeiffer (a1)


We tested the hypothesis that species of a diverse leaf-litter ant community are separated by the temperature preferences of their broods along a thermal gradient. Therefore, temperature preferences of brood-tending workers from 41 ant species co-occurring in four types (alluvial, limestone, kerangas and dipterocarp forest) of primary rain forest in Sarawak, Malaysia were measured in an experimental set-up. Preferred temperatures of species ranged from 16.0 °C to 31.7 °C, with the median at 25.8 °C. The ten commonest species (n ≥ 4) showed significantly different temperature preferences. In particular, species of the genus Pheidole differed clearly in their preferences over a broad range of temperatures. Temperature preferences varied significantly among ant assemblages from different forest types and nest sites. Experimentally obtained temperature preferences of species correlated significantly with vegetation density in the plots inhabited by the respective species, but not with plot canopy cover. When we tested the temperature preferences of all ant species with null models for niche overlap, we found a significant niche separation only among the tested species from the kerangas. Our results suggest that nest temperature is an important ecological factor for leaf-litter ants in rain forests on Borneo, but other factors may override its influence during community assembly.


Corresponding author

1Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All
AGOSTI, D., MAJER, J. D., ALONSO, L. E. & SCHULTZ, T. R. (eds.) 2000. Ants: standard methods for measuring and monitoring biodiversity. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. 280 pp.
ALBRECHT, M. & GOTELLI, N. J. 2001. Spatial and temporal niche partitioning in grassland ants. Oecologia 126:134141.
ANDERSEN, A. N. 1997. Functional groups and patterns of organization in North American ant communities: a comparison with Australia. Journal of Biogeography 24:433460.
BANSCHBACH, V. S., LEVIT, N. & HERBERS, J. M. 1997. Nest temperatures and thermal preferences of a forest ant species: is seasonal polydomy a thermoregulatory mechanism? Insectes Sociaux 44:109122.
BEGON, M., TOWNSEND, C. R. & HARPER, J. L. 2006. Ecology: from individuals to ecosystems. (Fourth edition). Blackwell, Oxford. 738 pp.
BENJAMINI, Y. & HOCHBERG, Y. 1995. Controlling the false discovery rate: a practical and powerful approach to multiple testing. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, series B (Methodological) 57:289300.
BESTELMEYER, B. T. 2000. The trade-off between thermal tolerance and behavioural dominance in a subtropical South American ant community. Journal of Animal Ecology 69:9981009.
BLÜTHGEN, N., GEBAUER, G. & FIEDLER, K. 2003. Disentangling a rainforest food web using stable isotopes: dietary diversity in a species-rich ant community. Oecologia 137:426435.
BOLLAZZI, M. & ROCES, F. 2002. Thermal preference for fungus culturing and brood location by workers of the thatching grass-cutting ant Acromyrmex heyeri. Insectes Sociaux 49:153157.
BOLTON, B. 1994. Identification guide to the ant genera of the world. Harvard University Press, Cambridge. 222 pp.
BOLTON, B. 2007. Taxonomy of the dolichoderine ant genus Technomyrmex Mayr (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) based on the worker caste. American Entomological Institute, Gainsville. 150 pp.
BRÜHL, C. A., ELTZ, T. & LINSENMAIR, K. E. 2003. Size does matter: effects of tropical rainforest fragmentation on the leaf litter ant community in Sabah, Malaysia. Biodiversity and Conservation 12 (7):13711389.
CERDÁ, X., RETANA, J. & MANZANEDA, A. 1998. The role of competition by dominants and temperature in the foraging of subordinate species in Mediterranean ant communities. Oecologia 117:404412.
EGUCHI, K. 2001. A revision of the Bornean species of the ant genus Pheidole (Insecta: Hymenoptera: Formicinae: Myrmicinae). Tropics Monograph Series 2:1154.
FLOREN, A. & LINSENMAIR, K. E. 2000. Do ant mosaics exist in pristine lowland rain forests? Oecologia (Berlin) 123:129137.
FOLGARAIT, P. J. 1998. Ant biodiversity and its relationship to ecosystem functioning: a review. Biodiversity and Conservation 7:12211244.
HARTLEY, S. & LESTER, P. J. 2003. Temperature-dependent development of the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile (Mayr) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): a degree-day model with implications for range limits in New Zealand. New Zealand Entomologist 26:91100.
HARTLEY, S., HARRIS, R. & LESTER, P. J. 2006. Quantifying uncertainty in the potential distribution of an invasive species: climate and the Argentine ant. Ecology Letters 9:10681079.
HAZEBROEK, H. P. & MORSHIDI, K. A. 2001. National Parks of Sarawak. Natural History Publications, Kota Kinabalu. 502 pp.
HERBERS, J. M. 1988. Community structure in north temperate ants: temporal and spatial variation. Oecologia 81:201211.
LESSARD, J.-P., DUNN, R. & SANDERS, N. J. 2009. Temperature-mediated coexistence in temperate forest ant communities. Insectes Sociaux 56:149156.
MALSCH, A. K. F., FIALA, B., MASCHWITZ, U., MOHAMED, M., NAIS, J. & LINSENMAIR, K. E. 2008. An analysis of declining ant species richness with increasing elevation at Mount Kinabalu, Sabah, Borneo. Asian Myrmecology 2:3349.
MASCHWITZ, U., STEGHAUS-KOVAC, S., GAUBE, R. & HÄNEL, H. 1989. A South East Asian ponerine ant of the genus Leptogenys (Hym., Form.) with army ant life habits. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 24:305316.
MEZGER, D. & PFEIFFER, M. 2008. Record of a mixed colony of two dacetine species: Strumigenys rotogenys and Pyramica mitis (Myrmicinae) from Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak, Malaysia. Asian Myrmecology 2:125127.
NOORDIJK, J., MORSSINKHOF, R., BOER, P., SCHAFFERS, A., HEIJERMAN, T. & SÝKORA, K. 2008. How ants find each other; temporal and spatial patterns in nuptial flights. Insectes Sociaux 55:266273.
PFEIFFER, M., NAIS, J. & LINSENMAIR, K. E. 2006. Worker size and seed selection in ‘seed’-collecting ant ensembles (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in primary rain forests on Borneo. Journal of Tropical Ecology 22:685693.
PFEIFFER, M., HO, C. T. & TEH, C. L. 2008. Exploring arboreal ant community composition and co-occurrence patterns in plantations of oil palm Elaeis guineensis in Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia. Ecography 31:2132.
PIANKA, E. R. 1973. The structure of lizard communities. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 4:5374.
PORTER, S. D. & TSCHINKEL, W. R. 1993. Fire ant thermal preferences: behavioral control of growth and metabolism. Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology 32:321329.
PROCTOR, J., ANDERSON, J. M. & VALLACK, H. W. 1982. Ecological studies in four forest types. Sarawak Museum Journal 51:207223.
PROCTOR, J., ANDERSEN, A. N., CHAI, P. & VALLACK, H. W. 1983. Ecological studies in four contrasting lowland rain forests in Gunung Mulu National Park, Sarawak: I. Forest environment, structure and floristics. Journal of Ecology 61:237260.
ROCES, F. & NÚÑEZ, J. A. 1989. Brood translocation and circadian variation of temperature preference in the ant Camponotus mus. Oecologia 81:3337.
ROSENGREN, R., FORTELIUS, W., LINDSTRÖM, K. & LUTHER, A. 1987. Phenology and causation of nest heating and thermoregulation in red wood ants of the Formica rufa group studied in coniferous forests in southern Finland. Annales Zoologici Fennici 24;147155.
SANTINI, G., TUCCI, L., OTTONETTI, L. & FRIZZI, F. 2007. Competition trade-offs in the organisation of a Mediterranean ant assemblage. Ecological Entomology 32:319326.
THOMAS, C. D., FRANCO, A. M. A. & HILL, J. K. 2006. Range retractions and extinction in the face of climate warming. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 398:415416.
TILLBERG, C. V., HOLWAY, D. A., LEBRUN, E. G. & SUAREZ, A. V. 2007. Trophic ecology of invasive Argentine ants in their native and introduced ranges. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA 104:2085620861.
VASCONCELOS, H. L. 1999. Effects of forest disturbance on the structure of ground-foraging ant communities in central Amazonia. Biodiversity and Conservation 8:409420.
WINEMILLER, K. O. & PIANKA, E. R. 1991. Organisation in natural assemblages of desert lizards and tropical fishes. Ecological Monographs 60:2755.
ZELIKOVA, T. J. & BREED, M. D. 2008. Effects of habitat disturbance on ant community composition and seed dispersal by ants in a tropical dry forest in Costa Rica. Journal of Tropical Ecology 24:309316.


Is nest temperature an important factor for niche partitioning by leaf-litter ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Bornean rain forests?

  • Dirk Mezger (a1) and Martin Pfeiffer (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed