Dr. Volker Witte


 

 

Department Biologie II

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Großhaderner Str. 2

D-82152 Planegg - Martinsried

GERMANY

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Tel: +49 (0)89  2180 74 265

Fax: +49 (0)89 2180 74 221

 

 

 

 

Curriculum Vitae


 

 

 

  

Education

     

    Ph.D.

       J. W. Goethe - University Frankfurt am Main, Department of Zoology, 2001 Thesis title (translated): "Structure and Regulation of Army Ant Behavior in SE-Asian Ponerines of the Genus Leptogenys"

    Diploma

      J. W. Goethe - University Frankfurt am Main, 1997

      Major: Zoology; Minor: Botany, Organic Chemistry

      Thesis title (translated): "Swarm-Coordination of SE-Asian Army Ants - Examined in Leptogenys distinguenda"

 

Grants

      Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, research and travel grant, 08.1997 - 10.1998 and 04.1999 - 01.2000

      Graduiertenfoerderung der J. W. Goethe - Universität, research support grant, 02.2000 - 04.2001

      Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung, Feodor Lynen grant for international exchange program, 02.2002 - 01.2004

      Columbia University Biosphere 2 Center Research Grant, 02.2002 - 01.2004

      Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, research and travel grant, 03.2006 - 05.2007

      Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, research and travel grant, 06.2008 - 05.2011

      Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, research and travel grant, 03.2010 - 02.2012

       

 

Professional Experience

 

    Experimental work:

      Extensive field and laboratory studies at the "Ulu Gombak Field Studies Center" of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur 1) on coordination of collective behavior and the biological meaning of trail pheromones in ponerine army ants including their guest fauna. 2) on chemical and behavioral integration mechanisms of army ant symbionts. 3) Biology of mushroom harvesting ants

      "Field" and laboratory studies on the ecology and chemical communication of the invasive "Crazy Ant" Paratrechina longicornis at Columbia University's Biosphere 2 Center in Oracle, Arizona.

      Chemical characterization of pheromones and cuticular hydrocarbons using preparative gas chromatography (GC) and GC-MS (combined GC and mass spectroscopy) including quadrupol and TOF instruments; sampling methods: liquid injection, solid sampler and solid-phase micro-extraction (SPME).

       

    Teaching :

      Lectures: Principles of behavioral ecology, Biology of social insects, Orientation and chemical communication, Optimal foraging, Sexual selection, Mutualism, Parasitism, Predator-prey interactions, Group living and cooperation, Sociobiology, Terrestrial ecosystems.

      Labs (partly contributions): Methods in behavioral ecology, Experimental behavioural ecology, Biodiversity lab for undergraduates, Introduction into ecology I and II for undergraduates, Research labs for graduate students on various topics.

      Seminars: Behavioral ecology, Chemical ecology, Biodiversity, Sociobiology, Coevolution, Species concepts and speciation.

       

 

 

Research interests

 

I have broad interests in the field of biodiversity, ecology and behaviour of social insects with focus on chemically mediated interactions.

 

1. Coevolution between parasites and their army ant hosts

Ant colonies of the genus Leptogenys are inhabited by a multitude of symbionts, most of which are parasitic to the present state of knowledge. The community can comprise an outstanding diversity of animal taxa, even in a single host ant colony, and the different organisms show highly specific ways of exploiting their host. Thereby, some parasites inflict higher fitness costs on their host by harming the host or its brood directly, while others impose comparably lower costs by kleptoparasitism. Host defence is remarkably increased against harmful parasites, while less harmful parasites induce lower defence reactions and are consequently able to integrate seamlessly into the host societies. These findings on parasite virulence - host defence relations are new and interesting with respect to evolutionary theory. It is expected, though it has not yet been clearly shown, that selection should favour stronger host defence against costly parasites, as well as the evolution of reduced virulence among tightly associated social insect symbionts. Up to now our findings perfectly support these hypotheses.

Another aspect of special interest is the mechanism of social recognition. A reliable recognition of group members and the discrimination of non-members is a precondition for a well functioning social system. If recognition is imperfect, societies can be penetrated and exploited by alien organisms, and such parasitism is actually widespread in social insects. The parasites of social insects somehow evade the recognition systems, which provides a good starting point for the study of the relevant recognition cues. Social recognition systems have been and continue to be studied extensively in social insects, including ants. For some reason, studies so far have focused exclusively on surface hydrocarbons as recognition cues, which certainly play a very important role. However, our recent findings suggest that this may be an oversimplification and that other groups of chemicals are important as well.

 

2. Mushroom-hunting ants, the biology of a newly discovered lifestyle

Ants are known to utilise a great variety of natural resources and they show fascinating adaptations to their particular niches. In 2008 I discovered a previously unknown lifestyle in ants of the genus Euprenopepis: a specialization on wild growing mushrooms. Further studies revealed that two Euprenolepis species are widespread in SE-Asian rainforest habitats, and that they represent the most important consumers of fungal fruiting bodies. As other lifestyles in ants, the specialised foraging on mushrooms and their consumption comes along with specific adaptations. Studies on the general ecology of E. procera, the most abundant mushroom-hunting ant, show that the foraging and nesting behaviours are well adapted to an efficient exploitation of mushrooms, a spatiotemporally highly unpredictable food source. Preliminary studies also suggest that E. procera possesses unique food processing and digestive abilities, which are the focus of current research projects. Due to highly efficient foraging, a significant impact of Euprenolepis ants on the fungal community can be expected. Spores of more than 50 fungus species are retrieved efficiently together with the sporocarp to the ant nests, which are typically located in decomposing wood or in the root system of young trees. Spores remain at the dump sites of the ant colonies, and this way both saprophobic as well as mycorrhizal fungi may get dispersed and find suitable conditions for germination.

 

3. The ecological success of invasive ant species

Five ant species are classified as being among the world’s 100 worst invasive species, which includes animals, plants and microorganisms. One reason for the devastating effects these small animals can impose on entire ecosystems is their collective power. Forming huge supercolonies (extensive networks of cooperating colonies), invasive ants reach extraordinarily high collective impact. The question of how a few invasive ant species are able to out-compete native ant species on a global scale is of outstanding scientific interest. Most likely a combination of key traits facilitates invasiveness and several such traits have already been recognised. I follow a new approach by comparing the chemical communication of invasive ants to the communication of non-invasive ants. Pheromone communication contributes much to the evolutionary success of social insects. It is of increasing importance in larger societies because the actions of numerous individuals can be coordinated in this way. As communication varies between ant species, my working hypothesis focuses on the effects of superior communicative abilities. Species with sophisticated communication (e.g., in recruitment to food resources or in alarm and defence systems) may gain a competitive advantage over species that communicate in a less sophisticated way. So far, several studies support this hypothesis. Two invasive formicine ants that I have studied 1) differ considerably from the general formicine communication system, and 2) show striking similarities although the two invasive species are not directly related. In contrast, four non-invasive formicine ants of different genera, investigated using the same methodology, show no such differences from the general formicine communication system.

 

4. Self-organization and business Bionics

Technical bionics, the transfer of concepts from nature to human technology and engineering, has become a successful and widespread field of applied research. Business biomimicry in contrast is a newly emerging and less well known field that applies the bionic concept to organizational and management structures. Over extended time spans biological systems have been under natural selection, constantly favoring optimization. Consequently, optimized system properties can be found most likely among the evolutionary most successful organisms. Social insects include some extraordinarily successful taxa, and, among these, ants are particularly widespread, ecologically dominant, and diverse. The success of social insects is generally based on the benefits of collective behavior, and, for such behavior to function; it must be well organized and coordinated. The benefits of (self-)organized group behavior and the underlying mechanisms are hence of special interest for business bionics. My aim is to identify mechanisms in the organization of social insect societies that can be useful for human application. I exchange my experiences with researchers from various fields and with business people. Characteristic for social insect societies are 1) a heterarchic system of organization and 2) a multiplicative flow of information with amplification or inhibition through positive or negative feedback loops. Existing practical implementations of such bionic concepts in human organizational structures were extraordinarily successful and may call for a long term change in management systems.

 

 

Publications


 

 

von Beeren C, Schulz S, Hashim R, Witte V, in press. Acquisition of chemical recognition cues facilitates integration into ant societies. BMC Ecology.

von Beeren C, Pohl S, Witte V, in press. On the use of adaptive resemblance terms in chemical ecology. Psyche.

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

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, in press. Malayatelura ponerophila – a new genus and species of silverfish (Zygentoma, Insecta) from Malaysia, living in Leptogenys army-ant colonies (Formicidae) Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift

Matthews EA, Pearcy M, Witte V, Keller L, Goodisman MAD, in press. New microsatellite markers in the longhorn crazy ant, Paratrechina longicornis. Molecular Ecology Resources.

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

 

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 (in press)

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.

 

 

Presentations

Witte V, Schließmann D, 2009. Decision making in the group raiding ant Leptogenys diminuta. Annual Meeting of the DZG (Deutsche Zoologische Gesellschaft).

Witte, V., 2008. Communicative skills of two invasive ants Paratrechina longicornis & Anoplolepis gracilipes. University of Würzburg, Department of Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology - Invited speaker

Witte, V., 2007. Multiple strategies of social integration into an army ant society: the diverse symbiont fauna of Leptogenys distinguenda. 100. Annual Meeting of the DZG (Deutsche Zoologische Gesellschaft)

Witte, V., 2007. Chemical and behavioral integration mechanisms of two myrmecophiles into societies of the host ant Leptogenys distinguenda. Meeting of the Central European Section of the IUSSI

Witte, V., 2006. Mehrkomponenten Signalsysteme in der Spurkommunikation von Ameisen: Steuerung von kollektivem Verhalten durch Pheromone. University of Ulm, Department of Experimental Ecology - Invited speaker

Witte, V., 2003. The significance of an effective communication system for invasive ants: insights from Paratrechina longicornis at Columbia University’s Biosphere 2 Center. University of Arizona, Department of Entomology - Invited speaker

Witte, V., 2002. Integration of myrmecophiles in colonies of migratory ants: the guest fauna of the ponerine Leptogenis distinguenda. XIV International Congress of IUSSI, 27.07.-03-08.2002, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Japan