Ants live in highly structured colonies, and are the ultimate social insects (Marshall 2006). With almost 20,000 species, ants can be found in virtually any terrestrial ecosystem (Marshall 2006). Despite their reputation for being pests, ants provide vital ecosystem services. Ants help break down organic matter in decomposition (cycling essential nutrients back into the ecosystem), turn soil over, and can disperse seeds and can protect plants from other natural enemies (Fisher and Cover 2007). Ants have played a crucial role in the evolution of numerous other organisms (over 460 plant species). Through symbiotic relationships, ants have helped in shaping many of the terrestrial ecosystems we know today.
Most colonies consist of female, worker ants. As a unit, these worker ants build the nest, gather food, protect and feed the young, and fight against predators who jeapardize the colony or their food sources. Male ants mate with the queen ant and live relatively short lives. Ant genetics and sex ratios are interesting to examine in ant colonies. Sex determination in ants is called haplodiploidy. Haplodiploidy is when males are typically hatched from unfertilized eggs. An unfertilized egg only has a single set of chromosomes, just from the mother. The females on the other hand are diploid because they hatch from fertilized eggs that have two sets of chromosomes, one from the mother and one from the father (Marshall 2006). Unfortunately, haplodiploidy means that sisters are three times more related to each other than brothers from the same queen mating. The haplodiploidy of ant colonies mean that sisters have more incentives to cooperative with eachother, helping their mother (the queen) produce more offspring, meaning more sisters (Morales and Heithaus 1998).
No species list of the North Woods ants exists, at least to our knowledge. However, we can make some educated guesses regarding the species that are likely to be found in the woods, based on research done in other forests in the region. For example, Gottelli and Ellison (2002) report the following species being found in at least one of 22 New England forests sampled:
- Some of these species are particularly widespread. For example, Aphaenogaster rudis, Camponotus pennsylvanicus, Lasius alienus, Leptothorax longispinosus, and Myrmica punctiventris were found in greater than half of the forests inspected, and Camponotus novaboracensis, Dolichoderus pustulatus, Myrmica lobifrons and Tapinoma sessile in greater than half of the bogs inspected. (Source: Gottelli and Ellison (2002) Biogeography at a regional scale: Determinants of ant species density in New England bogs and forests. Ecology 83: 1604-1609)
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Bolton, Barry. “The World Ants.” AntWeb. 1947. The California Academy of Sciences. 6 Apr. 2008 <http://antweb.org>. The World: the World Ants. California: University of California Press, 2007.
Fisher, Brian, and Stefan Cover. Ants of North America: A Guide to the Genera. California: University of California Press, 2007.
Marshall, Stephan. Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity.Buffalo: Firefly Books, 2006.
Morales, Manuel, and Raymond Heithaus. “Food From Seed-Dispersal Mutualism Shifts Sex Ratios in Colonies of the Ant Aphaenogaster Rudis.” Ecological Society of America 79.2 (Mar. 1998): 734-740. 6 Apr. 2008 <http://proquest.umi.com>.