What do we know?
The Myrmica ants belong to the most common ants in Europe (a, b). They have rather small colonies, usually 200-2000 workers, with variable numbers of queens. They have a very wide diet, feeding on small insects and the honeydew of aphids, which they often protect against predators and parasites. During the spring and summer Myrmica ants build "solaria" of soil and vegetation to keep their brood warm (c). Several species of red ant are parasitized by caterpillars of large blue butterflies and by other, socially parasitic, red ant species, whereas other species can develop unicolonial populations and become invasive pests.
We are particularly interested in the population genetics of the Myrmica scabrinodis species complex, as some of these are hosts to Maculinea species, whereas others are not. We have also analysed reproductive isolation of M. microrubra social parasites and their M. rubra hosts. Finally, we are interested in the extent to which genetic population viscosity affects the suitability of Myrmica species as hosts for social parasites.
Are commonness and genetic population structure decisive variables determining the suitability of Myrmica species as hosts for social parasites?
Does the Myrmica scabrinodis complex contain cryptic species and are these differentially suitable as hosts for Maculinea butterflies?
What are the chemical mimicry mechanisms that allow Myrmica ants to be exploited by social parasites, and do phylogenetically unrelated social parasites use similar or different forms of chemical mimicry than ant social parasites that are closely related to their host?