Digging in the dirt: Does soil pollution affect colony founding in the black garden ant Lasius niger?

, Seidenath Dimitri, Otti Oliver, Holzinger Anja, Lücker Darleen, Kemnitz Klara, Feldhaar Heike.

Uncovering the various causes of the global decline in biodiversity is a major task of ecological research. One main driver are changes in land use, including intensification of agriculture and urbanization. Extensive research in this area has identified different factors, such as pesticides and nitrogen deposition, that negatively impact biodiversity. Other anthropogenic factors, such as plastic waste and air pollution, have only recently attracted increased research interest. Thus, it is largely unknown if pollutants that accumulate in the soil, such as manure, plastic and airborne particulate matter, pose a threat to soil dwelling organisms like insects. Moreover, the combinatorial effect of multiple stressors remains to be investigated. Here we exposed black garden ant Lasius niger queens at the colony founding stage to five pollutants in two concentrations. We compared their single effects to multiple stressor environments made from different combinations of the pollutants. When founding a colony, mated queens bury themselves into the ground and lay their brood on the bare soil. At this very sensitive stage small disruptions can prevent the successful establishment of a colony. To simulate soil contamination we used manure, brake dust, soot, microplastic particles and microplastic fibres. We measured the development time of the different life stages and queen survival. Once workers were present, we assessed the brood weight and number of offspring as a surrogate for colony founding success. Even though we expect to find negative effects of single pollutants, it might well be that significant effects only manifest when ant queens or brood are exposed to a combination of pollutants. Organisms might be able to compensate single effects but will be overstrained when facing multiple stressors. Our research aims to understand the importance of a range of pollutants on soil organisms and which role they play in the global biodiversity loss.

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