Synopsis top ↑
The herdsmen ants of the genus Dolichoderus cultivate their "livestock", honeydew-producing pseudococcids of the morphologically anomalous tribe Allomyrmococcini. As true migrating nomads the ants move their livestock to always fresh, nutrition-rich pastures using a variety of transport techniques. The tight interdependence of the mutualistic partners has led to many behavioural and morphological adaptations, e. g. the complete abandonment of firm nest structures in favour of flexible bivouac nests (which also give shelter to part of the mealybug colony), well-organized colony relocations towards newly colonized pasture sites of the mealybugs, budding as the mode of colony reproduction to ensure the uninterrupted persistence of the symbiosis, or various behavioural patterns and morphological structures that facilitate mealybug transport.
Hitherto the herdsmen lifestyle has only been described for a single Dolichoderus species. In contrast, the authors found this life form to be a very diverse complex, of symbiotic associations, widely distributed in tropical Southeast Asia, ranging from the Himalayas to the Greater Sunda Islands, effectively occupying a specific ecological niche in the tropical rainforest. The study proves the herdsmen lifestyle for at least 12 Dolichoderus species with over 30 species of Allomyrmococcini from 11 genera.
This monograph comprises the current state of knowledge about the life history, behavioural ecology and evolution of the symbiosis as well as the taxonomy of both partner groups. The approach to combine the results of the ethoecological field studies with the taxonomic revisions of the herdsmen Dolichoderus and the Allomyrmococcini (including keys and descriptions of new species and genera) allows a thorough insight into this fascinating tropical life form.