You can find a list of our Collaboration HERE
BIODIVERSITY AND BIOINDICATION
Among the taxa proposed so far as bioindicators for the state of terrestrial ecosystems, ants may have a central role. Several features make this group an ideal tool: for example, their worldwide distribution and abundance, ease of collection, key role in ecosystem and a generally well-known ecology and taxonomy. A promising framework for monitoring and understanding changes in ant assemblages is represented by the Functional Group approach (FG), where taxa can be classified on the basis of ecological/behavioural rather than purely taxonomic criteria. This approach may permit the identification of general patterns in community structure that are independent of the identity of the observed species and transcend biogeographical boundaries. Functional groups have been successfully used to monitor disturbance gradients in several different contexts (eg. mining activity, forest management, revegetation) throughout the World. Surprisingly, little has been done to test the reliability of the functional group approach in Europe and in Italy. In order to study the ant community structure of our target areas, we use two main sampling techniques: Pitfall Traps and Food Bait.
BEHAVIOURAL ECOLOGY OF HARVESTING ANTS
Our model systems are amazing species of the genus Messor (e.g. M. capitatus, M. wasmanni, M. minor, M. structor)granivorous species widely distributed in Italy, especially in the Central-Southern regions, where they can coexist in strict syntopy. We studied several aspects of their biology focusing our attention on their communication systems (chemical, vibrational). Actually we are mainly interested in several ecological and sociobiological aspects including the reproductive biology and colony founding, intra and interspecific competition and coexistence, microhabitat segregation, spatio-temporal foraging dynamics, polymorphism and division of labour.
SYMBIOSIS WITH HONEYDEW PRODUCING INSECTS
We are tackling the study of different aspects of the ecology of intimate relationships involving ants and honeydew producing insects. We are interested in behavioural, ecological and sociobiological implication of these symbioses, as well as possible applicative consequences especially when considering the effects of the ants on the effectiveness of natural enemies commonly used for biological control. Actually, our model system includes the Argentine ants (Linepithema humile), pseudococcid mealybugs (e.g. Planococcus citri) and their predators (e.g. the coccinellid beetles Cryptolaemus montrouzieri). A comparative investigation is in project, involving different species of ants (e.g. Formica spp. and Lasius spp.), pest insects and their possible natural enemies.
A key element for the organization of a complex society is the presence of an efficient communication system that allows information exchange among its members. One well-established research topic in our lab is the study of chemical communication, the most important communication channel in ants. Our investigations involve the study of pheromones used in several behavioural contexts as the reproduction, the cooperative defence, the foraging behaviour. Moreover, the chemical strategies adopted by specialized siocial parasites in different contexts have been investigated. When possible, the topic is approached with multidisciplinary analyses (chemical, morphological, ultrastructural, and behavioural). (Picture of the Olfactometer is from Analytical Research Systems).
The Social Parasitism is a peculiar form of symbiosis in which the parasite is able to become an accepted member of the host society, exploiting all its benefits. Slavery is a type of Social Parasitism and our research unit has been studying it for several years. Our study models are the obligate slave-making ant Polyergus rufescens (Latreille 1798), the facultative slave-making ant Formica sanguinea Latreille 1798 and their host species of the genus Formica (Linneus 1758). We are studying several aspects of their biology, behaviour and ecology.