Ant colony tracking in the obligate army ant-following antbird Phaenostictus mcleannani

Abstract

More than 100 species of tropical birds track army ants to feed on arthropods that flee from the ants. Some species are obligate ant-followers that obtain most of their food at ant swarms, but the mechanism used to track ant colonies remains poorly understood. Ant colonies are nomadic and do not raid every day. It has been hypothesized that (1) by keeping track of three ant colonies daily, each bird should find at least one ant swarm per day, and (2) the birds use the vocalizations of conspecifics as cues to find ant swarms. I followed radiotagged Ocellated Antbirds (Phaenostictus mcleannani) in Costa Rica, which are obligate army ant-following birds, to test both hypotheses and describe how they navigate to find army ant swarms. I found that the birds remained at a single ant swarm throughout the day if that swarm was found in the dominance area of the birds; otherwise, the birds visited several ant colonies. Birds travelled in an oriented manner among ant colonies, in cohesive groups that moved in single file. I recorded “following” events in which a focal bird travelled in a group to a nomadic ant colony that this bird did not check on the previous day; the focal bird travelled with birds that visited the colony on the previous day. Following was occasionally facilitated by vocalizations produced by birds immediately before leaving a swarm. I propose that individual Ocellated Antbirds take advantage of collective knowledge to find army ant swarms.

Zusammenfassung

Mehr als 100 tropische Vogelarten verfolgen Wanderameisen, um die vor ihnen fliehenden Arthropoden zu erbeuten. Einige dieser Vogelarten verfolgen Ameisenschwärme obligat und leben überwiegend hiervon, aber mit welchen Methoden sie die wandernden Ameisenvölker aufspüren, ist noch immer weitgehend unbekannt. Ameisenvölker leben nomadisch und gehen nicht jeden Tag auf Wanderschaft. Zwei aufgestellte Hypothesen besagen, dass (1) ein Vogel bei der täglichen Beobachtung dreier Ameisenvölker zumindest einen Ameisenschwarm pro Tag aufspüren sollte, und (2) die Vögel die Lautäußerungen von Artgenossen nutzen, um wandernde Völker zu finden. Ich bin in Costa Rica mit Minisendern ausgestatteten Halsband-Ameisenvögeln (Phaenostictus mcleannani) gefolgt, die obligat Ameisenschwärme verfolgen, um beide Hypothesen zu testen und zu beschreiben, wie die Vögel navigieren, um die Wanderameisen aufzuspüren. Ich fand heraus, dass die Vögel einen ganzen Tag lang ein und denselben Ameisenschwarm verfolgten, sofern sich dieser innerhalb des Reviers der Vögel aufhielt. War das nicht der Fall, besuchten die Vögel mehrere Ameisenvölker. Die Vögel bewegten sich zwischen diesen Ameisenvölkern ganz offensichtlich orientiert und in zusammenhängenden Gruppen. Ich konnte „Nachfolge-Ereignisse“ aufzeichnen, in denen der beobachtete Vogel innerhalb seiner Gruppe zu einem Ameisenvolk flog, das er am vorherigen Tag nicht besucht hatte; seine Gruppe jedoch hatte dieses Ameisenvolk am Tag zuvor aufgesucht. "Nachfolge-Ereignisse" wurden vereinzelt von Vögeln durch Vokalizationen verursacht, kurz bevor diese den Schwarm verlassen haben. Als Erklärung schlage ich vor, dass einzelne Halsband-Ameisenvögel Erfahrungen und Wissen der ganzen Gruppe nutzen, um wandernde Ameisenvölker aufzuspüren.

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Acknowledgments

I thank K.N. Rabenold, P.M. Waser, J.R. Lucas, J.A. DeWoody, A. Kumar, G.A. Sonerud, D.W. Mock, the Rabenold Lab, Tracy Faustermann and anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. I am also grateful to A.M. Class, Y. Araya-Ajoy, C.A. Lizana-Moreno, and S.K. Willson, for their help/advice in the field. Thanks to P.A. Zollner for his advice on movement analysis and D. McClearn, the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS), and the Costa Rican government for permission to conduct this project. This project was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation (DDIG 0608231), Purdue Research Foundation, Department of Biological Sciences at Purdue University (special thanks to Richard J. Kuhn), American Ornithologists’ Union, Cooper Ornithological Society, Sigma Xi Society, OTS. The experiments comply with the current laws of Costa Rica.

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Correspondence to Johel Chaves-Campos.

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Communicated by Jon Fjeldså.

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Chaves-Campos, J. Ant colony tracking in the obligate army ant-following antbird Phaenostictus mcleannani . J Ornithol 152, 497–504 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-010-0607-8

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Keywords

  • Eciton burchellii
  • Information transfer
  • Navigation
  • Network foraging
  • Social foraging