Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ants create united Europe

16.04.2002


Argentine ants are a serious agricultural and domestic pest in Europe.
© Charles König


Cooperation is a better strategy than conflict for expat Argentine ants.
© Charles König


Invading insect empire stretches 6,000 kilometres.

An invading empire has conquered Europe. One super-colony of South American ants, with millions of nests and billions of individuals, stretches 6,000 kilometres around the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts, researchers have found.

Every ant in the colony treats every other as its nest-mate - even though they may be quite unrelated. The nests have buried their differences to create the largest cooperative unit ever discovered, say Laurent Keller of the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and his colleagues1.



"You can mix Spanish and Italian ants and there’s no aggression," says Keller. "We were extremely surprised to find this."

"This is really amazing and exciting," says entomologist Terrence McGlynn of the University of San Diego. The cooperative powers of Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) have made them a serious agricultural and domestic pest, and a threat to native species worldwide. But the scale of their super-colonies, and how they came about, was previously unknown, says McGlynn.

Other invasive ants, such as the troublesome fire ants of the southern United States, cooperate, although not on the same scale. "To understand how they do it is practically, as well as biologically, important," says geneticist Pekka Pamilo of the University of Oulu, Finland.

The Argentine ant has invaded every continent except Antarctica, and has reached islands including Hawaii and New Zealand, by hitchhiking with humans. Its arrival is bad news for the residents - it’s very hard to find native ants in invaded areas, says McGlynn.

In the long term, Keller suggests, chemicals could be devised that jam the ants’ communication systems so that they turn on one another.

Suspension of hostilities

Keller and his colleagues collected Argentine ants from the northwest corner of Italy, along the south coast of France, and around the Iberian peninsula, ending at the northwest corner of Spain.

In South America, ants from nests a few metres apart fight to the death. Most European ants showed no aggression towards each other, even when their homes were thousands of kilometres apart.

This suspension of hostilities allows nests to crowd together, the team speculates. Freed from the predators and parasites of their homeland, populations reach higher densities. Cooperation becomes a better strategy than conflict, even though the ants are not related, and so share no evolutionary interest in each other’s wellbeing.

Ants use chemical badges to recognize nest-mates. Keller speculates that after the ants arrived in Europe in the 1920s, they teamed up with unrelated ants that happened to share a badge in order to achieve domination.

Argentine ants have not quite achieved European unification, however. The researchers found that the nests they collected fell into two blocs that cooperated amongst themselves but showed each other no quarter. The second, smaller super-colony lives in Catalonia, Spain.

References

  1. Giraud, T., Pedersen, J.S. & Keller, L. Evolution of supercolonies: the Argentine ants of southern Europe. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 412, 708 - 712, (2002).

JOHN WHITFIELD | © Nature News Service

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Microscope measures muscle weakness
16.11.2018 | Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

nachricht Good preparation is half the digestion
16.11.2018 | Max-Planck-Institut für Stoffwechselforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: UNH scientists help provide first-ever views of elusive energy explosion

Researchers at the University of New Hampshire have captured a difficult-to-view singular event involving "magnetic reconnection"--the process by which sparse particles and energy around Earth collide producing a quick but mighty explosion--in the Earth's magnetotail, the magnetic environment that trails behind the planet.

Magnetic reconnection has remained a bit of a mystery to scientists. They know it exists and have documented the effects that the energy explosions can...

Im Focus: A Chip with Blood Vessels

Biochips have been developed at TU Wien (Vienna), on which tissue can be produced and examined. This allows supplying the tissue with different substances in a very controlled way.

Cultivating human cells in the Petri dish is not a big challenge today. Producing artificial tissue, however, permeated by fine blood vessels, is a much more...

Im Focus: A Leap Into Quantum Technology

Faster and secure data communication: This is the goal of a new joint project involving physicists from the University of Würzburg. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research funds the project with 14.8 million euro.

In our digital world data security and secure communication are becoming more and more important. Quantum communication is a promising approach to achieve...

Im Focus: Research icebreaker Polarstern begins the Antarctic season

What does it look like below the ice shelf of the calved massive iceberg A68?

On Saturday, 10 November 2018, the research icebreaker Polarstern will leave its homeport of Bremerhaven, bound for Cape Town, South Africa.

Im Focus: Penn engineers develop ultrathin, ultralight 'nanocardboard'

When choosing materials to make something, trade-offs need to be made between a host of properties, such as thickness, stiffness and weight. Depending on the application in question, finding just the right balance is the difference between success and failure

Now, a team of Penn Engineers has demonstrated a new material they call "nanocardboard," an ultrathin equivalent of corrugated paper cardboard. A square...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“3rd Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2018” Attracts International Experts and Users

09.11.2018 | Event News

On the brain’s ability to find the right direction

06.11.2018 | Event News

European Space Talks: Weltraumschrott – eine Gefahr für die Gesellschaft?

23.10.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Purdue cancer identity technology makes it easier to find a tumor's 'address'

16.11.2018 | Health and Medicine

Good preparation is half the digestion

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

Microscope measures muscle weakness

16.11.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>