Ecological Significance Of Hill-Building Forest Ants

Diversity in the forest

Many plants in the herb layer are promoted in their spread by ants. In one growing season, the ants of a nest spread tens of thousands of seeds. Forest ants thus promote floristic diversity in the forest. The ant hills are home to a number of specialized articulates (larvae of the rose beetle and four-point beetle, hoverflies, woodlice) and these species are also important in the forest ecosystem.

What do ants have to do with honey?

There are close relationships between bark lice and forest ants. The honeydew excreted by bark lice is the main source of carbohydrates for the ant colony; ants, therefore, encourage bark lice. The increased honeydew production is enjoyed by a number of other insects, including ichneumon flies, which are useful from a forestry point of view. Finally, beekeepers also benefit from increased forest cover.

Auxiliary ants – a prerequisite for forest ant colonization

An important key factor for the initial colonization by forest ants is the presence of ancillary ants of the subgenus Serviformica. Sufficiently high densities of helper ants can only be expected in forest areas with changing light conditions.

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A place in the sun

Forest ants need heat from the sun. Forestry measures directly influence the light conditions on the forest floor. Dense and large-area thicknesses and pole woods show poor living conditions due to strong shading. It is precisely here that the positive effect of forest ants is desirable and necessary. Thick woods and pole woods should therefore be as small as possible. In the peripheral areas, but also in these stands, ant hills should be particularly encouraged. This can be carried out during maintenance interventions without any special additional expenditure. The most efficient method is to remove individual trees that cast shadows from a southern or western direction.

Eave and eaves trees

Forest ants are dependent on the honeydew use of bark lice. Trees with a good bark aphid population are called aviary trees. These are easily recognisable during the summer months due to the intensive up and down movement of ants. The 11 different types of woodland ants living in Tyrol settle on the hillside Various species of ants live on Red Wood Ants in defensive positions of particular importance is the eaves tree, which protects the anthill from the weather. Trees under whose umbrella there are anthills should therefore not be removed. Individual trees in the immediate vicinity (radius of 10 m) should not be felled as eaves trees.

Prevention of damage caused by woodwork

Existing anthills should be included in the planning of the woodwork (back lanes, felling direction, wood inflow). Especially in autumn and winter, the destruction of the nest dome can mean the loss of the entire colony due to frost. Mechanical damage should be prevented. No branches should be deposited on anthills.

Forest roads

Existing anthills should be taken into account when planning new forest roads. Widening of forest roads can also lead to the loss of wood ants’ nests. If rare ant species or areas with low ant hill density are affected, emergency resettlement must be carried out.

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Relocation and settlement of forest ants

New settlements of forest ants by the resettlement of ant colonies from further away are to be rejected (faunal adulteration, low success rate). Emergency resettlements make sense in individual cases, especially if they involve rare, endangered ant species or areas with low levels of forest ant colonization. The involvement of specialists is recommended. The relocation of entire ant hills on a small scale using an excavator shovel can be useful in individual cases. To do this, the entire nest should be excavated in its entirety – at least to a depth of 1 m below ground level – and placed in a prepared pit of equal depth below a suitable eaves tree.

Species protection

Of the 11 hill-dwelling wood ants living in Tyrol, a number are endangered due to high specialization and/or limited distribution. In the sense of a holistic forest picture, which also includes species protection, special attention must be paid to rare ant species. The common mountain forest ants show different densities depending on the forest structure. It is therefore also in the interests of forest ecology to ensure and promote the widest possible species spectrum in the forest by means of targeted changes in light conditions.

Direct protection measures unnecessary

Forest ants have an important position in the forest’s food web. The erection of “woodpecker bonnets” and “defense dummies” to keep out animal species is incompatible with a holistic view of the forest and should therefore be rejected. The removal of in-growing vegetation on the hill is in most cases pointless. Instead, it makes sense to pay attention to a heterogeneous forest structure.

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