Thermal ecosystem engineering by songbirds promotes a symbiotic relationship with ants

Maziarz, Marta ORCID:; Broughton, Richard K. ORCID:; Casacci, Luca Pietro ORCID:; Dubiec, Anna; Maák, István; Witek, Magdalena. 2020 Thermal ecosystem engineering by songbirds promotes a symbiotic relationship with ants. Scientific Reports, 10, 20330. 10, pp.

Before downloading, please read NORA policies.
N529052JA.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution 4.0.

Download (1MB) | Preview


Nesting birds can act as thermal ecosystem engineers by providing warm habitats that may attract arthropods to colonise the nest structure. This cohabitation of birds and nest-dwelling invertebrates may foster symbiotic relationships between them, but evidence is lacking. We investigated whether ants are attracted to bird nests by the heat generated by the hosts, and/or the nests’ structural insulation properties, to raise their broods (larvae and/or pupae) in advantageous thermal conditions. We found that the endothermic activity of birds within their nests created ‘heat islands’, with thermal conditions potentially promoting the survival and development of ant larvae in cool environments. We experimentally confirmed that the presence of heat within bird nests, and not the structure itself, attracted the ants to colonise the nests. As ants might benefit from exploiting warm bird nests, this may be a previously overlooked commensal, mutualistic or parasitic relationship which may be ecologically significant and globally widespread among various nesting birds and reproducing ants. Similar interspecific interactions may exist with other arthropods that reproduce in avian and mammalian nests. Further research is needed to reveal the nature of these relationships between such taxa, and to understand the role of warm-blooded animals as thermal ecosystem engineers.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Biodiversity (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 2045-2322
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: behavioural ecology, community ecology, ecological networks
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 01 Dec 2020 11:42 +0 (UTC)

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item

Document Downloads

Downloads for past 30 days

Downloads per month over past year

More statistics for this item...