Visual systems in animals often conspicuously reflect the demands of their ecological interactions. Ants occupy a wide range of terrestrial microhabitats and ecological roles. Additionally, ant eye morphology is highly variable; species range from eyeless subterranean-dwellers to highly visual predators or desert navigators. Through a comparative approach spanning 64 species, we evaluated the relationship between ecology and eye morphology on a wide taxonomic scale. Using worker caste specimens, we developed two- and three-dimensional measurements to quantify eye morphology and position, as well as antennal scape length. Surprisingly, we find limited associations between ecology and most eye traits, however, we recover significant relationships between antennal scape length and some vision-linked attributes. While accounting for shared ancestry, we find that two- and three-dimensional eye area is correlated with foraging niche and ommatidia density is significantly associated with trophic level in our sample of ant taxa. Perhaps signifying a resource investment tradeoff between visual and olfactory or tactile acuity, we find that ommatidia density is negatively correlated with antennal scape length. Additionally, we find that eye position is significantly related to antennal scape length and also report a positive correlation between scape length and eye height, which may be related to the shared developmental origin of these structures. Along with previously known relationships between two-dimensional eye size and ant ecology, our results join reports from other organismal lineages suggesting that morphological traits with intuitive links to ecology may also be shaped by developmental restrictions and energetic trade-offs.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Insect Science
- Animal Science and Zoology
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Developmental Biology
- comparative morphology
- visual system