iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry


Red wood ants shape epiphytic lichen assemblages in montane silver fir forests

Luca Di Nuzzo (1), Alberto Masoni (1), Filippo Frizzi (1), Elisabetta Bianchi (1), Maria Beatrice Castellani (1), Paride Balzani (1-2), Federica Morandi (1), Ylenia Sozzi (1), Chiara Vallese (3), Giacomo Santini (1)   , Renato Benesperi (1)

iForest - Biogeosciences and Forestry, Volume 15, Issue 1, Pages 71-76 (2022)
doi: https://doi.org/10.3832/ifor3897-014
Published: Feb 22, 2022 - Copyright © 2022 SISEF

Research Articles

The Formica rufa group comprises several ant species which are collectively referred to as “red wood ants” (hereafter RWA). These species have key roles in forest ecosystems, where they are ecologically dominant and greatly influence the dynamics of the habitat they colonise. Various studies have shown how their trophic activity may affect other organisms, which include both other invertebrates and plants. We can therefore hypothesize that their presence could affect the taxonomic and functional composition of epiphytes, despite clear information on such an effect is lacking. This study aimed to fill this research gap by evaluating whether the presence of red wood ants could affect the structure and composition of lichen communities. We selected two sites on the Apennine Mountains in Italy, where the red wood ant F. paralugubris was introduced from the Alps more than 50 years ago. In each site, lichen assemblages on Abies alba trees located within the colonised areas were compared to those from nearby, non-occupied areas. The results allowed for the identification of significant effects of F. paralugubris on the structure of lichen communities. Although there was no detectable impact on lichen species richness, a significant difference in their community composition between colonised and control sites was detected. Furthermore, ant presence seemed to be associated with specific lichen functional traits such as asexual reproduction. We argue that RWA could affect the lichen community either directly, e.g., by actively dispersing the species capable of asexual reproduction through their movements on trees (ant-mediated dispersion), or indirectly through herbivore exclusion. Finally, we also observed differences in β-diversity among the colonised and non-colonised sites.


Formica paralugubris, Red Wood Ants, Lichen Diversity, Impact, Introduced Species, Functional Diversity

Authors’ address

Paride Balzani 0000-0003-1549-7139
University of South Bohemia in Ceske Budejovice, Faculty of Fisheries and Protection of Waters, South Bohemian Research Center of Aquaculture and Biodiversity of Hydrocenoses, Zátiší 728/II, 389 25 Vodnany (Czech Republic)
Chiara Vallese 0000-0002-8531-5954
Biodiversity and Macroecology Group, Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, Alma Mater Studiorum - University of Bologna, v. Irnerio 42, I-40126 Bologna (Italy)

Corresponding author

Giacomo Santini


Di Nuzzo L, Masoni A, Frizzi F, Bianchi E, Castellani MB, Balzani P, Morandi F, Sozzi Y, Vallese C, Santini G, Benesperi R (2022). Red wood ants shape epiphytic lichen assemblages in montane silver fir forests. iForest 15: 71-76. - doi: 10.3832/ifor3897-014

Academic Editor

Massimo Faccoli

Paper history

Received: Jun 10, 2021
Accepted: Dec 27, 2021

First online: Feb 22, 2022
Publication Date: Feb 28, 2022
Publication Time: 1.90 months

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