Feeding habits of Hymenoptera and Isoptera in a tropical rain forest as revealed by nitrogen and carbon isotope ratios

F. Hyodo, Y. Takematsu, T. Matsumoto, Y. Inui, T. Itioka

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34 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the recognition of the functional role of Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps) and Isoptera (termites) in tropical ecosystems, their detailed feeding habits are not well known. To examine the feeding habits of these groups, we measured nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) stable isotope ratios (δ15N and δ13C) of hymenopterans (12 families, ≥16 genera and ≥32 species) and isopterans (one family and 10 species) collected in a tropical rain forest, Sarawak, Malaysia. We compared the isotopic signatures of these insects to those previously reported for other consumers collected in the same forest. The δ15N and δ13C values of these insects overlapped with those of the other consumers, indicating that they have access to diverse C and N sources in the forest. The δ15N values of ants and termites indicated that their feeding habits range along a continuum from herbivory (i.e. dependent on honeydew and nectar) to predation and from wood-feeders to soil-feeders, respectively. In addition, the δ15N values of wasps varied greatly from -0.1% (Braconidae sp.) to 8.6% (Bembix sp.), suggesting that their feeding habits also range from omnivory to predation. The ant species Camponotus gigas had δ13C values similar to those of invertebrate detritivores and omnivores rather than to those of invertebrate herbivores, although the diet of this species consists mostly of honeydew. This discrepancy suggests that the ant uses carbohydrates as an energy source, the isotopic signatures of which are not well retained in the body tissues. Values of both δ15N and δ13C of the predatory army ant Leptogenys diminuta and the soilfeeding termite Dicuspiditermes nemorosus did not differ significantly, indicating that both trophic level and the humification of feeding substrates can increase the isotopic signatures of terrestrial consumers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)417-426
Number of pages10
JournalInsectes Sociaux
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2011


  • Ants
  • Bees
  • Carbon and nitrogen isotopes
  • Lambir national park
  • Termites
  • Wasps

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Insect Science


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