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Nature. 2008 Jan 24;451(7177):457-9. doi: 10.1038/nature06477.

Clusters of ant colonies and robust criticality in a tropical agroecosystem.

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Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Kraus Natural Science Building, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109, USA.


Although sometimes difficult to measure at large scales, spatial pattern is important in natural biological spaces as a determinant of key ecological properties such as species diversity, stability, resiliency and others. Here we demonstrate, at a large spatial scale, that a common species of tropical arboreal ant forms clusters of nests through a combination of local satellite colony formation and density-dependent control by natural enemies, mainly a parasitic fly. Cluster sizes fall off as a power law consistent with a so-called robust critical state. This endogenous cluster formation at a critical state is a unique example of an insect population forming a non-random pattern at a large spatial scale. Furthermore, because the species is a keystone of a larger network that contributes to the ecosystem function of pest control, this is an example of how spatial dynamics at a large scale can affect ecosystem service at a local level.

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