Laboratory of Ecology and Evolution of Social Insects
Ecology and evolution of ants and termites, mainly in tropical ecosystems
We study ecology, phylogeography, evolution and diversity of ants and termites, especially in tropical ecosystems. The aim is to elucidate the factors and mechanisms that shape the diversity and composition of their communities along ecological gradients (effects of forest succession and stratification, elevation, biogeography). We also study the impact of ants on plants and other insects (herbivores, termites), and their relations (predation, mutualism). Our approaches combine classic community ecology and biodiversity research with the use of advanced statistical models and molecular methods.
See also for more: http://antscience.com/
A small video of some of us in the field recently: https://vimeo.com/205763307
Current research projects
Ecology of arboreal ants in tropical forest canopies
The canopies of tropical forest trees still belongs to the least known natural habitats in the world. However, arboreal insect species are rarely studied due to the limited access to the canopy and methods as canopy fogging. Its known that ants represent the majority of arthropod biomass in tropical forest canopies.
We use different methodological approaches a) single rope technique b) searching for the ant nests and foragers in fallen trees and c) construction of a special canopy ant bait stations to manipulate their activity in trees, and d) exposition and spatial translocation of articificial "bamboo" nests.
Aim of the project is to get a good understanding of the arboreal ant diversity and activity across different environmental gradients (successional and elevational changes), and to study the ant role in ant-herbivore-plant food-webs. In current project, we aim to perform also targeted manipulations of canopy ants to disentangle the effects of competition (species dominance), forest structure and climatic changes on their communities using the artificial nests and the observations at baits.
Do entomopathogenic fungi drive arthropod diversity gradients via host negative density dependence?
Using a combination of field observations and experiments, we aim to quantify importance of
entomopathogenic fungi for the origin and maintenance of arthropod diversity in relation to
elevation, anthropogenic habitat change, and future climate change.
Funding: Czech Science Foundation 21-06446S (2021-2023, PI: Tom Fayle)
Network ecology in the big data age: understanding changes in species interaction specificity along environmental gradients
By collating a large number of existing interaction network datasets, we will explore changes in
interaction specificity along global-scale environmental gradients, including latitude, altitude and
habitat modification, accounting for network mid-domain effects and cascading extinctions.
Funding: 2019-2021 Czech Science Foundation 19-14620S (PI: Tom Fayle)
Fayle T.M., Sam K. Humlova A., Cagnolo L. & Novotny V. (2016) The LifeWebs project: A call for data describing plant-herbivore interaction networks. Frontiers of Biogeography 8.4: e31122
The impacts of tropical forest degradation and fragmentation on ant-plant mutualisms
Project investigates how the mutualism between early succession Macaranga trees and their ant symbionts changes with logging and fragmentation of tropical forest, conversion to oil palm and experimental forest regeneration in Borneo. We will quantify network structure, and assess benefits for ants (food and living space) and trees (protection from herbivores). We will use field experiments to assess critical degrees of isolation from ant colonists for Macaranga and the potential for ant-assisted Macaranga to facilitate other trees.
Funding: 2016-2018: 16-09427S Czech Science Foundation (PI: T. Fayle)
Impact of degradation of forests on ant/termite communities and their inter-species interactions
In this project we will assess the way that interactions between soil dwelling ants and termites change when tropical rainforest is logged, fragmented and converted into oil palm plantation. Interactions will be quantified using environmentally constrained null models of species cooccurrence, molecular identification of gut contents, and observations and experiments linking the soil biota to soil properties and nutrient redistribution rates. Using these data we will create whole-network models which will allow prediction of the stability of ecosystem diversity
and functioning under a range of species extinction scenarios.
Funding: 2014-2016: How do changes in species interaction networks affect ecosystem function when tropical forests are degraded? Czech Science Foundation (PI: T. Fayle)
Luke, S.H.; Fayle, T. M.; Eggleton, P.; Turner, E.C.; Davies, R.G. (2014) Biodiversity and Conservation 23 (11): 2817-2832.
Fayle T.M. et.al. (2015) PLoS ONE 10: e0122533.
Tuma J., Fleiss S., Eggleton P., Frouz J., Klimes P., Lewis O., Yusah K.M., Fayle T.M. 2019. Applied Soil Ecology 144: 123-133.
Phylogeography and population biology of Melanesian ants
This project represents a comprehensive study of the ecology and evolution of tropical ants at the community, species and population levels. It is based on unique data set of samples collected from 17 sites in New Guinea and northern Australia. The study examines species distributional data combined with their population and species phylogenetic relationships across a large regional spatial scale. We used several different standartized collection methods (e.g. Wincler extractors, hand colecting, pitfall-traps, baits, searching of fallen trees) resulting to a broad focus on cryptic, terrestrial and arboreal ant species.
Funding: 2012-2015 Ecological and evolutionary determinants of ant distributions in tropical ecosystems. Czech Science Foundation (PI: M. Janda)
Taxonomy of new species of social insects
We also collaborate and share our material with international museums and taxonomists for identifications and possible descriptions of news species of social insects, notably ants and their nest symbionts.
Examples of collaborative institutions are: Museum of Comparative Zoology Harvard, Australian National Collections, National Agriculture Reasearch Institute of Papua New Guinea, Natural History Museum London.
Just from forests of New Guinea we have described 5 new species of ants and one new genus of symbiotic beetle.
Klimeš P, McArthur A (2014) Diversity and ecology of arboricolous ant communities of Camponotus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in a New Guinea rainforest with descriptions of four new species. Myrmecological News 20: 141-158.
Hlaváč P., Janda M., (2009) New genus of Lomechusini (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae, Aleocharinae) from Papua New Guinea associated with Leptogenys Roger. Zootaxa 2062: 57-64.
New Guinea ants - photos and database
The website dedicated to providing information about the systematics and ecology of the New Guinean ant fauna is available on www.newguineants.org. Our long-term aim is to facilitate access to photographs of specimens, their nests and habitats and provide resources for better knowledge of Melanesian ants with main focus on New Guinea island.