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Behavioural species discrimination in red wood ants (Formica rufa group)
The Formica rufa group (red wood ants) currently includes six species. Nevertheless, during previous work based on molecular markers, we showed the existence of one population morphologically identified as F. lugubris, but genetically different from all other analysed populations of this species. This population could represent a cryptic species within the Swiss National Park and has been provisionally named Formica lugubris-A2. To verify our hypothesis, we conducted a behavioural test based on the ability of ants to recognize pupae of their own species when compared to those of another species. The three red wood ant species present in the Swiss National Park (F. lugubris, F. paralugubris and F. aquilonia) and the F. lugubris-A2 population were used in our study. Results indicate that the F. lugubris-A2 population differs from other F. lugubris and from all other species in the behaviour of its workers and in the way its pupae are discriminated by other species. This is in accordance with the genetic data and strengthens our hypothesis on the existence of a new cryptic red wood ant species within the Swiss National Park.
Formica rufa group, red wood ants, taxonomy, behaviour, cryptic species, species identification
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