Conservation Biology, Ecology and Evolution in Social insects (CBEES)


Research themes:


Life history traits

Landscape ecology

Heavy metal pollution

Taxonomy and zoogeography


CBEES research group








Social insect projects:

Ants of British Columbia

Social Evolution in Ants



Ant Base

Ant Web

Australian ants online


Online Catalog of Ants of North America

Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society

Royal Entomological Society



Animal Behaviour

Ann. Zoologici Fennici

Behavioral Ecology

Ecological Entomology

Entomologica Fennica

Environmental Pollution

Evolutionary Ecology

Insectes Sociaux






















































































































































15 November 2010


Dr. Jouni Sorvari

Department of Biology

Section of Ecology

FI-20014 University of Turku



E-mail: jouni.sorvari @




MSc, University of Jyväskylä 2002

PhD, University of Turku 2005

Assistant teacher, University of Turku 2005-2006

Research Fellow, University of East Anglia 2006-2007

Assistant teacher, University of Turku 2008

Research fellow, University of Turku 2009-




Multiple-nesting in ant colonies: the role of foraging economics

The study focuses on the foraging ecology of social insects; mostly about central-place foraging and dispersed central place foraging (e.g. the effect of resource distribution on foraging patterns and the decision to nest in multiple places). Special attention is also paid to resource sharing between nests.













Study species: Myrmica rubra and Iridomyrmex purpureus


in collaboration with

Andrew Bourke | Ron Ydenberg | Peter Banks



Reproduction, immune defence and nestmate recognition in social insects

The study focuses on fundamental topics such as reproduction, immune defence and colony organization in social insects. These are studied both in the context of evolutionary and environmental ecology. A special attention is paid on how social insects respond to anthropogenic change in natural habitats.

Nest mound of Formica polyctena in central Finland.


Results (so far) within this study theme:

1)     Nest size, food and habitat related reproduction in the wood ant Formica aquilonia (Sorvari & Hakkarainen 2005, 2007).

2)     Sex and caste related immune defence in Formica ants (Vainio et al. 2004)

3)     Habitat-related aggressive behaviour in the wood ant Formica aquilonia (Sorvari & Hakkarainen 2004)

4)    Diet and isolation effects on nestmate recognition in ant F. aquilonia (Sorvari et al. 2008)

5)    Effect of forest clear-cutting on sex ratio of forest-dwelling wood ant Formica aquilonia (Sorvari & Hakkarainen 2007).

6)    Forest clear-cutting related population declines in ant F. aquilonia (Sorvari & Hakkarainen 2007)

7)    Habitat, caste, and body size related immune defence in ant F. aquilonia (Sorvari et al. 2008)

      8)   Effect of forest clear-cutting on worker body size in Formica aquilonia (Sorvari & Hakkarainen 2009) 


in collaboration with

Harri Hakkarainen | Markus J. Rantala | Lotta Sundström | Stefano Turillazzi



Landscape mosaics

Species distribution in patchy habitat may be affected by competitive interactions. Among boreal ants, wood ant species (Formica rufa-group) are known to be dominant and highly competitive. The small-scale habitat requirements (immediate nesting habitat) seem to be similar among the species, and thus, competition for nesting territories might exist.

Clear-cuts and uncut forests in southern Finland.


The aim of the study is to find out the ability of wood ants to respond environmental change caused by habitat loss, and further on, does increased habitat loss affect competitive interactions of the species.


in collaboration with

Harri Hakkarainen | Esa Huhta | Lotta Sundström



Heavy metals and social insects

There is growing concern about the effects of environmental contaminants on the immune function of both humans and wildlife. Some of the contaminants such as heavy metals may act as immunotoxins causing increased susceptibility to infectious diseases and parasites. Heavy metals have been shown to accumulate easily in insects such as ants, but the effect on immune function has remained unknown. Pollution-related immunomodulation may be one of the factors behind declining ant populations, observed in several heavily polluted locations.

Heavy metal polluted forest near the Harjavalta copper smelter in south-western Finland

(photo © T. Eeva).


Ants are excellent organisms to explore the effects of environmental pollution, because their colonies are perennial and due to wingless workers they use resources on a very local scale.


Results (so far) within this study theme:

1)     Heavy metal related distribution, nest mound size and body size in different red wood ant species (Formica s. str.) (Eeva et al. 2004)

2)     Heavy metal related immune defence in ant Formica aquilonia (Sorvari et al. 2007)


in Collaboration with

Tapio Eeva | Markus J. Rantala



Taxonomy and zoogeography of ants (especially Formica rufa group)

European Formica rufa group consist of six closely related species belonging into the mound building Formica wood ants: Formica rufa Linné, 1761; F. polyctena Förster, 1850; F. aquilonia Yarrow, 1955; F. lugubris Zetterstdt, 1840; F. paralugubris Seifert, 1996; and F. pratensis Retzius 1783. F. pratensis occupies mostly in meadows or other open areas whereas the members of the F. rufa-group occupy more or less forested habitats.

Formica rufa workers on the nest mound (photo © J. Sorvari).


Wood ants in the F. rufa group are important key species in forest ecosystems having potential to modify invertebrate community and even plant community. The species group form colonies, which differ in size and colony structure, thus having differences in their ecological significance. These features make wood ants as a suitable group for studies concerning social structure, competition, forest ecology etc. Species identification, however, has been difficult and partly controversial; thus, studies using wood ants may have been neglected to some extent. For the same reason, also species distribution is partly unknown.


A scanning electron micrograph from the compound eye of Formica aquilonia queen.



The aim of this project is to produce more accurate methods for species identification (e.g. Sorvari 2006) and update the information on the distribution of the species in Finland as well as in other parts of Europe.


Results (so far) within this study theme:

1)     First description of workers of a hairier morph of the wood ant Formica polyctena found in Finland (Sorvari 2006)




Selected publications

Sorvari, J., Haatanen, M.-K. & Vesterlund, S.-R. 2011. Combined effects of overwintering temperature and habitat degradation on the survival of boreal wood ant. Journal of Insect Conservation (In press). DOI: 10.1007/s10841-010-9372-5

Sorvari, J. & Eeva, T. 2010. Pollution diminishes aggressiveness between territorial ant colonies. Science of the Total Environment 408: 3189-3192. PDF

Sorvari, J. 2009. Foraging distances and potentiality in forest pest control: an example with two candidate ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological News 12: 211-215. PDF

Sorvari, J. & Hakkarainen, H. 2009. Forest clear-cutting causes small workers in the polydomous wood ant Formica aquilonia. Annales Zoologici Fennici 46: 431-438. PDF

Sorvari, J., Theodora, P., Turillazzi, S., Hakkarainen, H. & Sundström, L. 2008. Food resources, chemical signalling and nest mate recognition in the ant Formica aquilonia. Behavioral Ecology 19(2): 441-447. PDF

Sorvari, J., Hakkarainen, H. & Rantala, M. J. 2008. Immune defense of ants is associated with changes in habitat characteristics. – Environmental Entomology 37: 51-56. PDF

Sorvari, J. & Hakkarainen, H. 2007. Wood ants are wood ants: deforestation causes population declines in the polydomous wood ant Formica aquilonia. – Ecological Entomology 32: 707-711. PDF

Jäntti, A., Suorsa, P., Hakkarainen, H., Sorvari, J., Huhta, E. & Kuitunen, M. 2007. Within territory abundance of red wood ants Formica rufa is associated with the body condition of nestlings in the Eurasian treecreeper Certhia familiaris. Journal of Avian Biology 38: 619-624. PDF

Sorvari, J. & Hakkarainen, H. 2007. The role of food and colony size in sexual offspring production in a social insect: an experiment. – Ecological Entomology 32: 11-14. PDF

Sorvari, J. & Hakkarainen, H. 2007. Forest clearing and sex ratio in forest-dwelling wood ant Formica aquilonia. –  Naturwissenschaften 94: 392-395. PDF

Sorvari, J., Rantala, L. M., Rantala, M. J., Hakkarainen, H. & Eeva, T. 2007. Heavy metal pollution disturbs immune response in wild ant populations. Environmental Pollution 145: 324-328. PDF

Eeva, T., Sorvari, J. & Rinne, V. 2006. A likely German wasp (Vespula germanica) breeding colony in continental Finland. – Sahlbergia 11: 53–54. PDF

Sorvari, J. 2006. Two distinct morphs in the wood ant Formica polyctena in Finland: a result of hybridization? Entomologica Fennica 17(1): 1-7. PDF

Sorvari, J. & Hakkarainen, H. 2005. Deforestation reduces nest mound size and decreases the production of sexual offspring in the wood ant Formica aquilonia. Annales Zoologici Fennici 42: 259–267. PDF

Vainio, L., Hakkarainen, H., Rantala, M. J. & Sorvari, J. 2004. Individual variation in immune function in the ant Formica exsecta; effects of the nest, body size and sex. – Evolutionary Ecology 18 (1): 75-84. PDF

Eeva, T., Sorvari, J. & Koivunen, V. 2004. Effects of heavy metal pollution on red wood ant (Formica s. str.) populations. – Environmental Pollution 132: 533-539. PDF

Sorvari, J. & Hakkarainen, H. 2004. Habitat-related aggressive behaviour between neighbouring colonies of the polydomous wood ant Formica aquilonia. Animal Behaviour 67: 151-153. PDF