Evolutionary Ecology

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Research Volker Witte

Dr. Volker Witte

(until 30.04.14)

Research interests

We study various questions in the context of chemical ecology, covering several research fields, such as behavioural ecology, evolutionary ecology, invasive biology, host-parasite interactions, natural history and community ecology. Our study models are ants, the most specious and diverse group of social insects. Ants interact in manifold ways with other organisms, including higher animals, plants, fungi and micro-organisms. Those interactions range from parasitic to mutualistic and we study them from proximate and ultimate perspectives. Proximately, interactions are frequently mediated by semiochemicals. Pheromones play mayor roles in the regulation of insect societies, in recognition processes and in collective information transfer. We attempt to understand the very basic mechanisms in the communication of ants for building theoretical models and simulations of collective behaviour. Furthermore, we analyse differences among ant species in their communication, with a specific focus on invasive species, in order to understand ultimately why some species can become dominant over other species.

Chemical interactions play also major roles in interspecific interaction and such mechanisms are also studied in our group. Numerous animals exploit ant societies in parasitic ways by means of chemical deception, such as mimicry. Ultimately, we focus also on co-evolutionary dynamics in host-parasite systems by quantifying reciprocal selection pressures.

I am furthermore interested in understanding fundamental mechanisms of ant communication with respect to human applications in business and social life. Social insects are prime examples for swarm intelligence. Their self-organized interactions result in collective achievements which are far beyond individual abilities. This is of special interest for business bionics, not only in the context of social media. I exchange and share my insights with representatives from economy in seminars and workshops (European Communication Summit Brussels 2012, Fachtagung Interne Kommunikation Berlin 2012, Querdenker Bionik-Tag München 2011, and others)


WS 2012 Assistant Professor (Akademischer Oberrat), Department of Biology II, LMU Munich2010 - 2012 (substitute) Professor, Behavioral Ecology, Department of Biology II, LMU Munich2010 Habilitation in Zoology and Ecology2004 - 2010 Assistant Professor (C1) Department of Biology II, LMU Munich2002 - 2004 Alexander von Humboldt fellow (Cornell University)2001 PhD in Biology (J.W.-Goethe Universität Frankfurt a.M.)1997 Diploma in Biology (J.W.-Goethe Universität Frankfurt a.M.)top


von Beeren C, Pohl S, Witte V, 2012. On the use of adaptive resemblance terms in chemical ecology. Psyche. DOI:10.1155/2012/635761 1-7

von Beeren C, Schulz S, Hashim R, Witte V, 2011. Acquisition of chemical recognition cues facilitates integration into ant societies. BMC Ecology 11:30. DOI: 10.1186/1472-6785-11-30. (This paper received the BMC research award in plant, animal and veterinary sciences)

Pohl S, Witte V, Foitzik S, 2011. Division of labor and slave raid initiation in slave-making ants. Behav Ecol Sociobiology 65:2029-2036.

von Beeren C, Maruyama M, Hashim R, Witte V, 2011. Differential host defense against multiple parasites in ants. Evol Ecol 25:259-276

Foitzik S, Fröba J, Rüger MH and Witte V, 2011. Competition over workers: Fertility signalling in wingless queens of Hypoponera opacior. Insectes Sociaux 58:271-278..

Mendes LF, von Beeren C and Witte V, 2011. Malayatelura ponerophila - a new genus and species of silverfish (Zygentoma, Insecta) from Malaysia, living in Leptogenys army-ant colonies (Formicidae) Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift 58:193-200

Aggrawal RK, […] Witte V, Zucchi MI, 2011. Permanent genetic resources added to Molecular Ecology Resources Database 1 August 2010-30 September 2010. Mol Ecol Res 11:219-222.

Lizon à l'Allemand S, Witte V, 2010. A sophisticated, modular communication contributes to ecological dominance in the invasive ant Anoplolepis gracilipes. Biol Invasions 12:3551-3561

Achenbach A, Witte V, Foitzik S, 2010. Brood exchange experiments and chemical analyses shed light on slave rebellion in ants. Behav Ecol 21:948-956.

Witte V, Schliessmann D, Hashim R. 2010. Attack or call for help? Rapid individual decisions in a group-hunting ant. Behav Ecol 21:1040-1047

Witte V, Disney RHL, Weissflog A, Maschwitz U, 2010. Studies in European ant decapitating flies (Diptera:Phoridae): Ant alarm pheromone as host finding cue in Pseudacteon brevicauda, a parasite of Myrmica rubra (Formicidae:Myrmicinae). J Nat Hist 44:905-912.

Bauer S, Böhm M, Witte V, Foitzik S, 2010. An ant social parasite in-between two chemical disparate host species. Evol Ecol 24:317-332.

Maruyama M, von Beeren C, Witte V, 2010. Aleocharine rove beetles (Coleoptera, Staphylinidae) associated with Leptogenys Roger, 1861 (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) II. Two new genera and two new species associated with L. borneensis Wheeler, 1919. Zookeys 59:61-72.

Witte, V., L. Lehmann, A. Lustig and U. Maschwitz, 2009. Polyrhachis lama, a Parasitic Ant with an Exceptional Mode of Social Integration. Insectes Sociaux 56: 301-307

R. H. L. Disney, S. Lizon à l’Allemand, C. von Beeren and V. Witte, 2009. A New Genus and New Species of Scuttle Flies (Diptera: Phoridae) From Colonies of Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Malaysia. Sociobiology 53: 1-12.

D. H. Kistner, U. Maschwitz and V. Witte, 2009. A New Genus and New Species of Scuttle Flies (Diptera: Phoridae) From Colonies of Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Malaysia. Sociobiology 53: 13-26.

Witte, V., S. Foitzik, R. Hashim, U. Maschwitz and .Schulz, 2009. Fine Tuning of Social Integration by Two Myrmecophiles of the Ponerine Army Ant, Leptogenys distinguenda. Journal of Chemical Ecology 35:355-367.

Bauer S, Witte V, Böhm M and Foitzik S, 2009. Fight or flight? A geographic mosaic in host reaction and potency of a chemical weapon in the social parasite Harpagoxenus sublaevis. Behav Ecol Sociobiology 64:45-56

Kistner DH, Maschwitz U and Witte V, 2009. New Records of Aenictophiles Including a New Genus and Species (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae). Sociobiology 53:13-26

Witte, V., A. Leingärtner, L. Sabaß, R. Hashim and S. Foitzik, 2008. Symbiont microcosm in an ant society and the diversity of interspecific interactions. Animal Behaviour 76: 1477-1486.

Witte, V. and U. Maschwitz, 2008. Mushroom harvesting ants in the tropical rain forest. Naturwissenschaften 95: 1049-1054.

Kistner, D. H., C. v. Beeren and V. Witte, 2008. Redescription of the Generitype of Trachydonia and a New Host Record for Maschwitzia ulrichi (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae). Sociobiology 52: 497-524

Maschwitz, U., A. Weissflog, S. Seebauer, R. H. L. Disney and V. Witte, 2008. Studies on European ant decapitating flies (Diptera: Phoridae): I. Releasers and phenology of parasitism of Pseudacteon formicarum. Sociobiology 51: 127-140.

Weissflog, A., U. Maschwitz, S. Seebauer, R. H. L. Disney, B. Seifert and V. Witte, 2008. Studies on European ant decapitating flies (Diptera: Phoridae): II. Observations that contradict the reported catholicity of host choice by Pseudacteon formicarum. Sociobiology 51: 127-140.

Witte, V., A. B. Attygalle and J. Meinwald, 2007. Complex chemical communication in the crazy ant Paratrechina longicornis Latreille. Chemoecology 17: 75-62

Witte, V., L. Abrell, A. B. Attygalle, X. Wu and J. Meinwald, 2007. Structure and function of Dufour gland pheromones from the crazy ant Paratrechina longicornis. Chemoecology 17: 63-69

Schöller, M and V. Witte 2007. A review of the beetle genus Clytrasoma Jacoby 1908, with description of a new species collected within an ant-nest of Camponotus sp. Senckenbergiana biologica 87: 51-61.

Kistner, D. H. and V. Witte, 2003: A new species of Trachydonia (Coleoptera: Staphylinidae, Aleocharinae) from Malaysia with some notes on its behavior as a guest of Leptogenys (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Sociobiology 42: 381-389.

Witte, V. and U. Maschwitz, 2002. Coordination of raiding and emigration in the ponerine army ant Leptogenys distinguenda (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Ponerinae), a signal analysis. J. Insect Behav. 15: 195-217.

Witte, V., 2002. Integration of myrmecophiles in colonies of migratory ants: the guest fauna of the ponerine Leptogenis distinguenda. XIV International Congress of IUSSI The Golden Jubilee Proceedings, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan. p 191.

Witte, V., R. Janssen, A. Eppenstein and U. Maschwitz, 2002. Allopeas myrmekophilos (Gastropoda, Pulmonata), the first myrmecophilous mollusc living in colonies of the ponerine army ant Leptogenys distinguenda (Formicidae, Ponerinae). Insectes Soc. 49: 301-305.

Janssen, R and V. Witte, 2002. Allopeas myrmekophilos n. sp., the first snail reported as living in army ant colonies (Gastropoda: Pulmonata: Subulinidae). Arch. Molluskenkd. 131: 211-215.

Witte, V. and U. Maschwitz, 2000. Raiding and emigration dynamics in the ponerine army ant Leptogenys distinguenda (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Insectes Soc. 47: 76-83.

Witte, V., H. Hänel, A. Weissflog, H. Rosli and U. Maschwitz, 1999. Social integration of the myrmecophilic spider Gamasomorpha maschwitzi (Araneae: Oonopidae) in colonies of the South East Asian army ant Leptogenys distinguenda (Formicidae: Ponerinae). Sociobiology 34: 145-159.top

Media Coverage

ScienceNOW 2011: Insect Invader Rubs Shoulders With Ants (http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/12/scienceshot-insect-invader-rubs.html)

Evolution of Life film project (winner for European collaboration at the MEDEA Awards 2010), funded by Volkswagenstiftung. Title: “An evolutionary arms race”. (http://www.evolution-of-life.com/en/home.html)

Dschungel-Ameisen als Wanderhirten 2010. Spektrum der Wissenschaft (http://www.spektrum.de/artikel/1030084).

Bayerischer Rundfunk/3Sat Wissensmagazin NANO 2009. Unternehmen lernen vom Leben in einem Ameisenstaat (http://www.3sat.de/mediathek/?obj=12635)

Nature research highlights 2008. Fungus hunters (http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v454/n7205/full/454670c.html).

Science News 2008. Nomadic ants hunt mushrooms (http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/34488/title/Nomadic_ants_hunt_mushrooms).