Pterygote Insects


Biodiversity und Evolution/Systematics

Our main field of activity is Numeric-Morphology-Based-Alpha-Taxonomy (NUMOBAT) of the ant genera Camponotus, Cardiocondyla, Bothriomyrmex, Formica, Hypoponera, Lasius, Myrmica, Leptothorax, Tapinoma, Temnothorax and Tetramorium by means of high-resolution stereomicroscopy, imaging methods, geometric morphometrics and explorative and hypothesis-driven data analyses.

Mean deformation grids related to the centroids of LDA functions for head (upper row) and petiole (lower row). Shape differences are exaggerated three-fold for better visualization. Red grids, M. scabrinodis; black grids, M. scabrinodis x vandeli; blue grids, M. vandeli.

We aim at taxonomic decision finding by integrative taxonomy – in ants mainly performed by combining and comparing of morphological, DNA-analytic, ethological and chorological data (Schlick-Steiner et al. 2010).

During the last ten years, we developed an advanced methodology for NUMOBAT (Numeric Morhology-Based Alpha-Taxonomy) in ants that is basically applicable also in other groups of organisms. It consists of (1) measures for error reduction during microscopic investigation (Seifert 2002), (2) removal of allometric variance (Seifert 2008a), (3) application of new forms of hierarchical and non hierarchical cluster analyses (Seifert et al. 2013) and (4) a fine-tuning of generated clusters by means of canonical variance analysis.

NC-Ward cluster analysis of morphometric data of three cryptic Tapinoma species that had been considered conspecific for four decades

Other focal points are investigation of phenomena of evolution such as hybridisation as a significant factor of speciation and adaptive radiation, Social Cleptogamy, individual and social polymorphism or sympatric speciation. Four separate research projects on interspecific hybridisation, which have been completed by publications, deal with hybridisation (1) of two more distantly related Formica species in south Finland, (2) of two closely related Formica species in Germany, (3) of three cryptic Formica species in the Alps and (4) of two distantly related Messor species in Italy.

Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Our general topics is ecology of Palaearctic ants. We intend a continuation of the long-term monitoring program of ant populations in Central Europe which has been launched in 1979. It contains 222 investigation plots by the year 2012. The program records the nest density of ants relative to 17 niche dimensions according to a standard protocol. The numerically recorded data allow a more precise investigation of both autecological (e.g., species-specific patterns of adaptation or preferences) and synecological issues (e.g., species richness and biomass in dependency from environmental factors, interspecific displacement). Therewith they pave the road for a truly predictive ecology.

213 study plots in D, CZ, PL, A with nest densities of ants and 17 niche dimensions recorded

physico-chemical niche dimensions:
F      – soil humidity
T      – soil temperature
R     – soil reaction
N      – soil nitrogen
M      – mechanical stress

structural niche dimensions:
PD    – phytodensity below 80 cm
TrC   – cover of trees
BuC  – cover of bushes
HeC  – cover of herb layer
MoC  – cover of moss layer
LiC    – cover of litter layer
DWC – cover of dead wood
StC    – cover of stones/rock

species-specific niche dimensions:
FA   –  field of action
NM  –  nest microhabitat
BS   –  body size
NU   –  nutrition spectrum

15 000 nests of 82 ant species have been recorded so far.

We currently investigate the ant fauna sub-project within the PaDeMoS project (Pasture Degradation Monitoring System) that considers the global climate change and degradation in pastures of the High Tibetan Plateau. The project aims at the development and testing of an integrated bio indication system. PaDeMoS (German)

Bernhard Seifert andRoland Schultz on an investigatiob plot on the High Tibetan Plateau (China)

Another issue is a global assessment of dragonflies (Odonata) for the IUCN Red List ( This data gives the global threat status for all species on the global scope and allows focused conservation actions. We are active in species specific conservation actions in eastern Africa, collaborating with local NGO’s and conservation institutions.

Other foci are a point-locality database (over 100.000 entries yet) for African dragonflies (Odonata), which allows the development of species specific distribution maps and the publication of an identification key for the dragonflies from eastern Africa (including over 500 species).

Biodiversity und Climate

We developed a method for the standardized description of soil temperatures in terrestrial ecosystems. The method has been made available for the public by the year 2012 in the form of the freely downloadable software package CalibSoil. Recording of soil temperatures has been a special focus in the long-term monitoring project of ant populations in Central Europe since the year 1979. A long-term continuation of this program and evaluation of the data by CalibSoil will allow a more precise description, assessment and prediction of the consequences of global warming

Microclimate is essential in predictive models!
The national and world-wide meteorological services record and provide data within only  the meso- to macroclimatic range. The red line in the graphics indicates a situation if meteorological factors would entirely determine the mean soil temperatures over all habitats. However, meteorological factors caused only 58% of explained variance within the study system but the habitat factors vegetation structure, orography, aspect and soil material added another 42% (indicated by the deviation from the red line). Accordingly, predictions of the distribution of organisms in the context of global warming will have big errors in any epi- or hypogean group of organisms such as cryptogams, vascular plants, insects, spiders, reptiles or small mammals when the habitat component of  microclimate is neglected. Predictions based exclusively on meso- and  macroclimate are only adequate for species with large fields of action and low affinity to soil factors. Furthermore, change of land use will much stronger affect microclimate than macroclimate.