Menzel, Florian PD Dr.











PD Dr. Florian Menzel
Group leader

Check out my recent article in Myrmecological News blog, where I talk about how cool cuticular hydrocarbons are and what roles they play in biotic interactions!


Curriculum Vitae

2021-2022 Replacement professor for Evoutionary Animal Ecology at the JGU Mainz
since August 2018 Heisenberg fellow of the German Research Foundation (DFG)
December 2016 Venia legendi in Ecology and Evolution
since 2011 Group Leader at the Institute of Zoology, University of Mainz
2009-2011 Research and teaching at the community Ecology group, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern
2006-2009 PhD thesis: "Mechanisms and adaptive significance of interspecific assocations between tropical ant species"; field work in Sabah and Sarawak/Malaysian Borneo
2005 Diploma thesis: "Crematogaster-Camponotus Associations in a Tropical Rainforest: Mechanisms and Specificity of Interspecific Recognition"; field work in Sabah/Malaysian Borneo
2000-2005 studies in Biology at the University of Würzburg (Germany), including two semesters at Duke University (Durham, NC, USA) and research semester at Gruffith University (Brisbane, Australia)

Research Interests

I am fascinated by interactions between different organisms. Species interact in manifold ways – they compete, eat each other, cooperate, or exploit one another, with all kinds of intermediate stages. Ants are a particularly exciting group since they are social, and they interact with a large range of different species. So how do ants organise the different tasks in a colony? And why do some ant species interact with others (as competitors, mutualists or parasites), while other ants don’t? I am especially interested in the chemical signals (mainly cuticular hydrocarbons) and the behavioural mechanisms involved in these interactions – between species and within species. I study their evolutionary ecology and their effects on community interactions. Finally, I investigate other mechanisms that structure biotic communities, such as niche partitioning and competitive exclusion. Next to Central Europe, I conduct studies in the tropical rainforests of South America and Southeast Asia. I work mostly on ants, but also on interactions of ants with spiders, aphids and parasitic cestodes. My research interests can be divided in three topics:

1) Which ecological and evolutionary factors shape chemical signals?

The most important communication signal in ants and other social insects is the cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profile. Covering the cuticle of virtually every insect, cuticular hydrocarbons make its body waterproof, but at the same time serve for intra- and interspecific communication. Thus, CHCs need to be optimised for multiple functions at the same time, which may result in quite some conflicts. This makes their evolution highly interesting, but hard to understand.

CHC profiles are mixtures with dozens of different compounds. Why are they so complex? We are currently trying to understand this, and look at intra- and interspecific CHC variation. Although CHC composition is largely genetically determined, it can vary within an individual over its lifetime, for example if an insect acclimates to current climatic conditions. Here, we study how acclimatory changes in the CHC profile are beneficial for survival, and how they affect communication.

When we compare CHC profiles across species, we notice a striking chemical diversity even among closely related species. This raises the question how this complex trait evolves, and which factors constrain CHC diversification. Currently, we investigate the evolution of CHC profiles on a global scale, including ant species from various biogeographic regions in a phylogenetic framework. We examine how CHC profiles are shaped by phylogenetic and physiological constraints, but also by selection pressures imposed by the climate or by interactions with other species. An especially striking example of CHC diversity are parabiotic ants of tropical South America. Parabioses are associations where two ant species share the same nest in a mutualistic fashion. A few years ago, we found that these ants are highly diverse – each species occurs in several chemically distinct ‘chemotypes’, which might represent cryptic species. Based on gene expression (transcriptome) analyses, we plan to identify the genetic mechanisms that underlie this rapid diversification of CHC profiles, and will uncover whether chemical diversification leads to speciation (collaboration with Barbara Feldmeyer, Frankfurt, and Thomas Schmitt, Würzburg).

2) How do chemical signals mediate interspecific interactions and influence community structure?

Species coexistence, and thus, community composition, is ultimately driven by interactions between species. Especially among ants, such behavioural interactions occur frequently and are usually aggressive. However, interactions are also possible without direct physical contact – if an animal responds to cues left by another one. For example, prey species respond to chemical cues unintentionally left by predators, and avoid sites of higher predation risk.

Recently, we showed that species do not only respond to cues of predators, but also to cues of competitors. Some subordinate ants avoid cues of dominant species, probably to reduce costs of aggressive encounters. Other species, in contrast, ignore heterospecific cues, or even approach them. To better understand how cue use varies within and across species, we investigate how responses to chemical footprints depend on an ant’s personality traits (such as exploration tendency or aggressiveness), and whether it is shaped by previous experience. Responses to chemical cues may affect the spatial distribution of ant colonies. Here, we will investigate causes and consequences of cue use using both experimental and modelling approaches. Understanding these mechanisms will represent an important bridge between individual behaviour and spatial community structure, thereby linking chemical ecology and community ecology.

3) Which mechanisms structure ecological communities and enable species coexistence?

A core question of community ecology concerns the mechanisms of species coexistence and the maintainance of local biodiversity. Especially in ants, competitive exclusion through aggression plays a major role in shaping ant communities. Co-occurring ant species can partition their niches to reduce interspecific competition. However, there is increasing evidence that intraspecific variation between individuals (or colonies) is equally important for species coexistence. 'Inter-individual niche partitioning' may explain the coexistence of species whose average niches are seemingly similar, but whose individual niches may differ widely. In this context, we are interested in the functional traits that enable
niche partitioning. Which ecological, morphological, behavioural or chemical traits of a species are actually relevant for its interactions with others? Here, we investigate how trait differentiation contributes to species coexistence, and how the distribution of functional traits among species influences community structure and ecosystem stability.

Potential topics for research practicals, bachelor, diploma, master or Staatsexamen theses include:

  • How do ants respond to chemical footprints?
  • How do learning and individual personality influence ant behaviour?
  • Mutualism or not? Costs and benefits in ant-aphid symbioses
  • What do ants eat? Dietary niche partitioning within and across ant species
  • Chemical diversification in ant species of tropical South America
  • Relation between chemical differentiation and nestmate recognition
  • How do ants change their chemical profiles in response to a different climate?
  • How are chemical profiles and drought tolerance related across arthropod taxa?

Methods used:

  • Field experiments
  • Behavioural experiments in the lab
  • Chemical analyses of cuticular hydrocarbons and fatty acids using GC-MS
  • Transcriptome analyses (RNAseq)
  • Population genetics
  • Agent-based modelling

Please feel free to contact me for further information.


Menges V, Späth S, Menzel F (2023). Temporally consistent behavioural variation between wild ant colonies is robust to strong seasonal and thermal variation. Animal Behaviour.

Baumgart L, Schaa EM, Menzel F, Joel AC (2022). Change of mechanical characteristics in spider silk capture threads after contact with prey. Acta Biomaterialia 153: 355-363.

Baumgart L, Wittke M, Morsbach S, Abou B, Menzel F (2022). Why do ants differ in acclimatory ability? Biophysical mechanisms behind cuticular hydrocarbon acclimation across species. Journal of Experimental Biology 225: jeb243847.

Wittke M, Baumgart L, Menzel F (2022). Acclimation in ants: Interference of communication and waterproofing through cuticular hydrocarbons in a multifunctional trait. Functional Ecology 36: 1973-1985.

Salas-López A, Violle C, Munoz F, Menzel F, Orivel J (2022): Effects of Habitat and Competition on Niche Partitioning and Community Structure in Neotropical Ants. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 10: 863080.

Joel A, Schmitt D, Baumgart L,  Menzel F (2022). Insect cuticular hydrocarbon composition influences their interaction with spider capture threads. Journal of Experimental Biology 225: jeb242514.

Bucher R, Japke LM, Ünlü AG, Menzel F (2021): Interactions of ants with native and invasive lady beetles and the role of chemical cues in intraguild interference. Chemoecology 31: 323-334.

Sprenger PP1, Hartke J1, Schmitt T, Menzel F2, Feldmeyer B2 (2021): Candidate genes involved in cuticular hydrocarbon differentiation between cryptic, parabiotic ant species G3 Genes | Genomes | Genetics 11: jkab078 (1,2 authors contributed equally)

Beros S, Lenhart A, Scharf I, Negroni MN, Menzel F, Foitzik S (2021): Extreme lifespan extension in tapeworm-infected ant workers. Royal Society Open Science 8: 202118

Sprenger PP*, Gerbes L*, Sahm J, Menzel F (2021): Cuticular hydrocarbon profiles differ between body parts: implications for communication and our understanding of CHC diffusion. Current Zoology, doi: 10.1093/cz/zoab012

Menzel F, Feldmeyer B (2021): How does climate change affect social insects? Current Opinion in Insect Science 46: 10-15.

Houadria M, Menzel F (2021): Digging Deeper into the Ecology of Subterranean Ants: Diversity and Niche Partitioning across Two Continents. Diversity 13: 53

Choppin M, Graf S, Feldmeyer B, Libbrecht R, Menzel F, Foitzik S (2021): Queen and worker phenotypic traits are associated with colony composition and environment in Temnothorax rugatulus (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), an ant with alternative reproductive strategies Myrmecological News 31: 61-69

Sprenger PP*, Müsse C*, Hartke J,  Feldmeyer  B, Schmitt T, Gebauer G, Menzel F (2020):  Dinner with the roommates: Trophic niche differentiation and competition in a mutualistic ant-ant association. Ecological Entomology 46: 562-572 (*authors contributed equally)

Hartke J, Waldvogel A-M, Sprenger PP, Schmitt T, Menzel F, Pfenninger M, Feldmeyer B (2020): Little parallelism in genomic signatures of local adaptation in two sympatric, cryptic sister species; Journal of Evolutionary Biology 34: 937-952

Mestre L, Narimanov N, Menzel F, Entling M (2020): Non-consumptive effects between predators depend on the foraging mode of intraguild prey. Journal of Animal Ecology, doi: 10.1111/1365-2656.13224

Houadria M, Menzel F (2020): Temporal and dietary niche is context-dependent in tropical ants. Ecological Entomology 45: 761–770

Menzel F, Morsbach S, Martens JH, Räder P, Hadjadje S, Poizat M, Abou B (2019): Communication vs. waterproofing: the physics of insect cuticular hydrocarbons. Journal of Experimental Biology, 222(23): jeb210807.

Sprenger PP, Hartke J, Feldmeyer B, Orivel J, Schmitt T, Menzel F (2019). Influence of mutualistic lifestyle, mutualistic partner, and climate on cuticular hydrocarbonprofiles in parabiotic Ants. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 45: 741-754.

Hartke J, Schell T, Jongepier E, Schmidt H, Sprenger PP, Paule J, Bornberg-Bauer E, Schmitt T, Menzel F, Pfenninger M, Feldmeyer B (2019). Hybrid genome assembly of a neotropical mutualistic ant. Genome Biology and Evolution, 11: 2306-2311

Hartke J*, Sprenger PP*, Sahm J, Winterberg H, Orivel J, Baur H, Beuerle T, Schmitt T, Feldmeyer B*, Menzel F* (2019) Cuticular hydrocarbons as potential mediators of cryptic species divergence in a mutualistic ant association. Ecology and Evolution 9: 9160-9176 (*authors contributed equally)

Grevé M, Houadria M, Andersen A, Menzel F (2019). Niche differentiation in rainforest ant communities across three continents. Ecology and Evolution 9: 8601-8615.

Kaur R, Stoldt M, Jongepier E, Feldmeyer B, Menzel F, Bornberg-Baur E, Foitzik S (2019). Ant behaviour and brain gene expression of defending hosts depend on the ecological success of the intruding social parasite. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 374: 20180192.

Rosumek FB, Blüthgen N, Brückner A, Menzel F, Gebauer G, Heethoff M (2018): Unveiling community patterns and trophic niches of tropical and temperate ants using an integrative framework of field data, stable isotopes and fatty acids. PeerJ 6: e5467

Beros S, Enders C, Menzel F, Foitzik S (2019). Parasitism and queen presence interactively shape worker behaviour and fertility in an ant host. Animal Behaviour, 148: 63-70.

Menzel F, Zumbusch M, Feldmeyer B (2018): How ants acclimate: impact of climatic conditions on the cuticular hydrocarbon profile. Functional Ecology, 32: 657-666

Sprenger PP, Burkert LH, Abou B, Federle W, Menzel F (2018): Coping with the climate: Cuticular hydrocarbon acclimation of ants under constant and fluctuating conditions. Journal of Experimental Biology, doi: 10.1242/jeb.171488

Beros S, Foitzik S, Menzel F (2017): What are the mechanisms behind a parasite-induced decline in nestmate recognition in ants? Journal of Chemical Ecology 43: 869–880

Rosumek FB, Brückner A, Blüthgen N, Menzel F, Heethoff M (2017): Patterns and dynamics of neutral lipid fatty acids in ants - implications for ecological studies. Frontiers in Zoology 14:36

Houadria M, Menzel F (2017): What determines the importance of a species for ecosystem processes? Insights from tropical ant assemblages. Oecologia 184: 885-899

Bott RA, Baumgartner W, Bräunig P, Menzel F, Joel A-C (2017): Adhesion enhancement of structural capture threads by epicuticular waxes of the insect prey sheds new light on spider web evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 284: 20170363

Menzel F, Schmitt T, Blaimer BB (2017): The evolution of a complex trait: cuticular hydrocarbons in ants evolve independent from phylogenetic constraints. Journal of Evolutionary Biology doi: 10.1111/jeb.13115

Junker RR, Kuppler J, Amo L, Blande JD, Borges RM, van Dam NM, Dicke M, Dötterl S, Ehlers B, Etl F, Gershenzon J, Glinwood R, Gols R, Groot AT, Heil M, Hoffmeister M, Holopainen JK, Jarau S, John L, Kessler A, Knudsen JT, Kost C, Larue-Kontic AAC, Leonhardt SD, Lucas-Barbosa D, Majetic CJ, Menzel F, Parachnowitsch AL, Pasquet RS, Poelman EH, Raguso RA, Ruther J, Schiestl FP, Schmitt T, Tholl D, Unsicker SB, Verhulst N, Visser ME, Weldegergis BT, Köllner TG (2017): Covariation and phenotypic integration in chemical communication displays: biosynthetic constraints and eco-evolutionary implications. New Phytologist doi: 10.1111/nph.14505

Kleeberg I, Menzel F and Foitzik S. 2017. The influence of slavemaking lifestyle, caste and sex on chemical profiles in Temnothorax ants: Insights into the evolution of cuticular hydrocarbons. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 284: 20162249.

Menzel F, Blaimer BB and Schmitt T. 2017. How do cuticular hydrocarbons evolve? Physiological and climatic constraints on a complex functional trait in insects. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 284: 20161727.

Salas-Lopez A, Houadria M, Menzel F, Orivel J 2017. Ant-mediated ecosystem processes are driven by trophic community structure but mainly by the environment. Oecologia, 183: 249-261.

Menzel F, Radke R, Foitzik S. 2016. Odor diversity decreases with inbreeding in the ant Hypoponera opacior. Evolution, 70: 2573-2582.

Edenhofer S, Tomforde S, Fischer D, Hähner J, Menzel F, von Mammen S. 2017. Decentralised trust-management inspired by ant pheromones. International Journal of Mobile Network Design and Innovation, 7: 46-55.

Binz H, Kraft E, Entling M, Menzel F. 2016. Behavioral response of a generalist predator to chemotactile cues of two taxonomically distinct prey species. Chemoecology, 26:153–162.

Wüst M, Menzel F. 2016. I smell where you walked - how chemical cues influence movement decisions in ants. Oikos, 126: 149-160.

Ellwood MDF, Blüthgen N, Fayle T, Foster W, Menzel F (2016): Competition can lead to unexpected patterns in tropical ant communities. Acta Oecologica 75: 24-34

Leonhardt SD*, Menzel F*, Nehring V*, Schmitt T (2016): Ecology and evolution of communication in social insects. Cell 164: 1277-1287 (*all 3 authors contributed equally)

Houadria M, Blüthgen N, Salas-Lopez A, Schmitt MI, Arndt J, Schneider E, Orivel J, Menzel F (2016): The relation between circadian asynchrony, functional redundancy and trophic performance in tropical ant communities. Ecology 97: 225-235

Bucher R, Menzel F, Entling MH. (2015) Risk of spider predation alters food web structure and reduces local herbivory in the field. Oecologia.178:571-577

Houadria M, Salas-Lopez A, Orivel J, Blüthgen N, Menzel F (2015): Dietary and temporal niche differentiation in species-rich assemblages - can they explain local tropical ant coexistence? Biotropica 47: 208-217

Bucher R, Binz H, Menzel F & Entling MH (2014): Spider cues stimulate feeding, weight gain and survival of crickets. Ecological Entomology 39:667-673

Binz H, Foitzik S, Staab F, Menzel F (2014): The chemistry of competition: Exploitation of heterospecific cues depends on the dominance rank in the community. Animal Behaviour 94: 45-53

Menzel F, Kriesell H, Witte V (2014): Parabiotic ants: the costs and benefits of symbiosis. Ecological Entomology 39: 436-444.

Bucher R, Binz H, Menzel F & Entling MH (2014): Effects of spider chemotactile cues on arthropod behavior. Journal of Insect Behaviour 27: 567-580.

Menzel F, Orivel J, Kaltenpoth M, Schmitt T (2014): What makes you a potential partner? Insights from convergently evolved ant-ant symbioses. Chemoecology 24: 105-119.

Pamminger T, Foitzik S, Kaufmann KC, Schützler N, Menzel F (2014): Worker personality and its association with spatially structured division of labor. PLoS One 9: e79616

Binz H, Bucher R, Entling MH & Menzel F (2014): Knowing the risk: Crickets distinguish between spider predators of different size and commonness. Ethology 120: 99-110

Menzel F, Blüthgen N, Tolasch T, Conrad J, Beifuß U, Beuerle T, Schmitt T (2013): Crematoenones – a novel substance class exhibited by ants functions as appeasement signal. Frontiers in Zoology 10:32

Menzel F, Staab M, Chung AYC, Gebauer G, Blüthgen N (2012): Trophic ecology of parabiotic ants: Do the partners have similar food niches? Austral Ecology 37: 537-546

Menzel F, Schmitt T (2011): Tolerance requires the right smell: first evidence for interspecific selection on chemical recognition cues. Evolution 66-3: 896-904

Lang C, Menzel F (2011): Lasius niger ants discriminate aphids based on their cuticular hydrocarbons. Animal Behaviour 82: 1245-1254

Menzel F, Woywod M, Blüthgen N, Schmitt T (2010): Behavioural and chemical mechanisms behind a Mediterranean ant-ant association. Ecological Entomology 35: 711-720

Menzel F, Pokorny T, Blüthgen N, Schmitt T (2010): Trail-sharing among tropical ants: interspecific use of trail pheromones? Ecological Entomology 35: 495-503

Menzel F, Blüthgen N (2010): Parabiotic associations between tropical ants: equal partnership or parasitic exploitation? Journal of Animal Ecology 79: 71-81

Menzel F, Schmitt T, Blüthgen N (2009): Intraspecific nestmate recognition in two parabiotic ant species: acquired recognition cues and low inter-colony discrimination. Insectes Sociaux 56: 251-260

Menzel F, Blüthgen N, Schmitt T (2008): Tropical parabiotic ants: Highly unusual cuticular substances and low interspecific discrimination. Frontiers in Zoology 5: 16

Menzel F, Linsenmair KE, Blüthgen N (2008): Selective interspecific tolerance in tropical Crematogaster-Camponotus associations. Animal Behaviour 75: 837-846

Blüthgen N, Fründ J, Vázquez DP, Menzel F (2008): What do interaction network metrics tell us about specialization and biological traits? Ecology 89: 3387-3399

Blüthgen N, Menzel F, Hovestadt T, Fiala B, Blüthgen N (2007): Specialization, constraints, and conflicting interests in mutualistic networks. Current Biology 17: 341-346

Zhou P, Menzel F, Shaw J (2007): Systematics and population genetics of Sphagnum macrophyllum and S. cribrosum (Sphagnaceae). Systematic Botany 32: 493-503

Blüthgen N, Menzel F, Blüthgen N (2006): Measuring specialization in species interaction networks. BMC Ecology 6: 9

Beaulieu F, Walter DE, Proctor HC, Kitching RL & Menzel F (2006): Mesostigmatid mites (Acari: Mesostigmata) on rainforest tree trunks: arboreal specialists, but substrate generalists? Experimental and Applied Acarology 39: 25-40

Menzel F, Kitching RL, Boulter SL (2004): Host specificity or habitat structure? – The epicortical beetle assemblages in an Australian subtropical rainforest. European Journal of Entomology 101: 251-259

Menzel F (1999): Anatomie der Farnpflanzen: Artbestimmung und Evolution. Jahreshefte der Gesellschaft für Naturkunde Württemberg 155: 107-133

Menzel F (1999): Leitbündelevolution bei Farnen. Junge Wissenschaft 56: 34-39