Open Access: CC BY 4.0


Bernasconi, C., Cherix, D., Seifert, B. & Pamilo, P.

Year: 2011


Molecular taxonomy of the Formica rufa group (red wood ants) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): a new cryptic species in the Swiss Alps?

Journal: Myrmecological News

Volume: 14

Pages: 37-47

Type of contribution: Original Article

Supplementary material: No


Because of their beneficial impact on forest ecosystems, European red wood ants (Formica rufa group) are protected by law in many European countries and are considered to be among the most reliable bioindicators of forest stability. However, their taxonomy has been much debated and, unfortunately, it is too often neglected. This happens mainly because the morphology-based method for species delimitation requires lots of time and experience. We therefore employed 9 microsatellite loci and mitochondrial Dna (Coi gene) to verify the power of genetic markers for red wood ant species delimitation and to investigate the cryptic diversity of these ants within the Eastern Swiss Alps. We analyzed 83 nests belonging to all red wood ant species that occur in the Swiss National Park area. Genetic data indicated that these species represent different genetic pools. Moreover, results showed that Formica aquilonia Yarrow, 1955 and F. paralugubris Seifert, 1996 often hybridize within the Park, confirming that these two species are genetically very close and could have diverged only recently. Nevertheless, microsatellites also revealed that one entire population, located in the Mingèr Valley and morphologically identified as F. lugubris Zetterstedt, 1838, is genetically different to all other analyzed F. lugubris populations found within the same area and to other red wood ant species. These findings, confirmed by mitochondrial Dna analyses, suggest the existence of a new cryptic species within the Eastern Swiss Alps. This putative cryptic species has been provisionally named F. lugubris-A2. These results have a great importance for future conservation plans, monitoring and evolutionary studies on these protected ants.

Open access, licensed under CC BY 4.0. © 2011 The Author(s).

Key words:

Microsatellites, Formica rufa group, cryptic species, species delimitation, biodiversity.

Publisher: The Austrian Society of Entomofaunistics

ISSN: Print: 1994-4136 - Online: 1997-3500