Recognition of ant chemical cues research

BMC Ecology is celebrating after having recently published research recognized for its excellence at the 2011 BioMed Central Research Awards.

The study by Christoph von Beeren and colleagues from the Ludwig Maximilian University Munich, Technical University Braunschweig and University Malaya, won the category award for “Plant, Animal Sciences and Veterinary Research”, judged by a leading panel of experts in the field.

Winning articles were chosen for their innovation and high-quality execution, with this work representing an elegant investigation into how kleptoparasitic silverfish are able to evade detection in the ant colonies they inhabit, by stealing their unwitting host’s odor—as well as their food.

Prior to this work, it hadn’t been clear whether this chemical mimicry was generated by the silverfish themselves, or whether it was  somehow being acquired directly from their host ants. By utilizing a technique called stable isotope analysis the team were able to track  the movement of individual recognition chemicals from their source, and establish that those found on the parasitic silverfish had indeed originated from the host ants through direct contact (see how they do this here).

In an intriguing follow-up experiment, they then introduced individual silverfish that had not had any prior contact with the host ants, into experimental colonies. These individuals that hadn’t “pilfered” the ant’s scent were found to be subject to more frequent aggressive encounters than those that had been in prior contact with the hosts –not a particularly favorable outcome if you happen to be trying to sneak into a colony of army ants.

The work adds substantially to the field of chemical ecology, providing new insight into mechanisms underlying the arms race between social insects and their nest parasites.

This award adds to a successful year for the journal, which celebrated the United Nations International Year of Forests with a high-impact collection of articles in the thematic series Forests: Looking to the Future, as well as recently being accepted for Impact Factor tracking by Thomson Reuters.

Von Beeren’s research now progresses into the shortlist for Overall winner of the Awards, which will be announced on 17th May.

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