|PhD student, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
Preliminary thesis title: “The role of chemical footprints for foraging and competitive interactions in ants”
Supervisor: PD Dr. Florian Menzel
10/2018 – 07/2019
|M.Sc. Biology, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
Thesis: “Sex pheromone production by symbiotic yeasts in the cigarette beetle Lasioderma serricorne”’
Supervisor: Dr. Tobias Engl
|04/2013 – 04/2017||B.Sc. Biology, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
Thesis: “The role of the neuro-amines octopamine and dopamine on the foraging persistence in the honey bee Apis mellifera”
In general, I am interested in the use of chemical cues by social insects to assess information about their environment. Above that, I have a strong interest in how these cues can be used to alter behavior and therefore influence the foraging activity of such complex societies. In my PhD project I aim to understand how chemical footprints can shape ant communities and allow different colonies to co-exist despite a high competition between them. Therefore, I am investigating intra-, as well as interspecific effects of chemical footprints in laboratory and field experiments working with local and invasive ant species.
As negative interactions are costly, animals try to avoid predation and competition. Instead of having to react in a fight or flight situation in a direct encounter with a predator or competitor, it can be beneficial to avoid risky encounters in the first place. To do so, animals can use chemical cues to assess the risk of predation in a given environment. Prey species for example, can reduce their feeding activity or immigrate in areas with a lower predation risk.
Other than the effects of direct predation (consumptive effects), antipredator behavior is mediated by predator cues, instead of predator density. Therefore these effects are termed `trait-mediated` as they influence prey traits, instead of prey density. Recently, it was shown that these effects do not only influence predator-prey interactions, but can also affect interactions between competing species.
Given that ants are among the most abundant arthropod taxa in terrestrial ecosystems, encounters of ants from different colonies or different species are very likely to happen. Ant communities are hierarchically structured: Behaviorally dominant species can aggressively displace others via direct behavioral interactions. Therefore inferior species can either be ignored (if they pose no threat) or be attacked by more dominant ones. Still, many ant species co-exist despite an apparent lack of niche differentiation.
In my PhD project, I am focusing on the role of chemical footprints in ant ecology. Ants possess an advanced chemical communication system, which is largely based on the use of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs). Their composition usually differs between allospecific, but also between allocolonial colonies. Ants are able to perceive these CHC profiles by antennating conspecifics and thereby discriminate foreign ants from those of their own colony. In addition to these direct interactions, they can also perceive chemical footprints (CFPs) passively left by other ants on the ground. As CHCs, they also consist of hydrocarbons, but primarily mediate attachment forces between the tarsals of an insect and the surface they are walking on. The composition of CFPs is largely congruent to CHCs and therefore also often species- and colony specific.
As CFPs are automatically left by an ant, they are a by-product of their foraging activity. I am interested in whether and to which extend different ant species use them as social cues to assess information about other ant colonies in their environment and alter their behavior according to their risk of negative interactions with others.