The red barbed ant is one of the most thermophilous species of the Formica genus; it requires an open habitat in order to obtain sufficient warmth through insolation. In Britain, the species nests in short, lowland grass and heather or maritime heath overlying loose or sandy soils. Nests are excavated in the ground or under stones; a small solarium of soil and vegetation fragments may be raised around a supporting grass tussock. Each nest may contain a colony of a few thousand workers along with one or more queens plus brood. In mature and healthy colonies a new sexual generation containing gynes and/or males is usually produced each year, with mating flights most commonly occuring in July. The workers usually forage singly for invertebrate prey or carrion; they will also take nectar and aphid honey-dew.
The red barbed ant has been considered a rare species since it was first found in Britain in 1896. It was previously recorded from six mainland British sites and one in the Scilly Isles on Chapel Down, St Martins. All of the mainland sites are (or were formerly) Surrey heathlands. The known distribution of the species is now restricted to two sites in Surrey, Chobham Common and the Bisley ranges, supporting as few as seven and two colonies respectively. The species was still present on St Martins in 1997. The red barbed ant ranges across the Palearctic and is present in southern and central Europe as far north as 62 degrees latitude.
In Great Britain this species is classified as Endangered.
Current factors causing loss or decline
Loss of suitable heathland habitat through urban or industrial development, agricultural improvement and afforestation.
Inappropriate heathland management.
Excessive or untimely disturbance of nests through, for example, trampling, off-road vehicles, digging, and inappropriate mechanised scrub or heather clearance.
Frequent, untimely or intensive heathland fires (although appropriate light burning may be beneficial).
Both Chobham Common and Bisley ranges are SSSIs; Chobham Common is an NNR.
Management action at Chobham Common rests with NE, the Surrey Wildlife Trust, and Surrey County Council. Some management of vegetation immediately around nests, and positioning of roofing tiles to encourage nest building, has occurred.
The red barbed ant is the subject of an NE Species Recovery Programme, for which an action plan was prepared in 1996.
Action plan objectives and targets
Maintain populations at all known sites.
Enhance the population size at all known sites by 2005.
Restore populations to suitable sites in order to maintain five viable populations within the historic range by 2010.
Proposed actions with lead agencies
Policy and legislation
Where appropriate, include the requirements of the species when preparing or revising prescriptions for agri-environment schemes. (ACTION: NE, MAFF)
Site safeguard and management
Where possible, ensure that all occupied and nearby potential habitat is appropriately managed, in particular that nests are not shaded by over-hanging vegetation or subjected to excessive disturbance. (ACTION: NE, MAFF)
Ensure that the species is included in site management documents for all relevant SSSIs. (ACTION: NE)
Species management and protection
Reintroduce the red barbed ant to a series of sites within the former range in order to ensure that there is a total of five viable populations by 2010. (ACTION: NE)
Advise landowners and managers of the presence of the species and the importance of beneficial management for its conservation. (ACTION: NE)
Future Research and Monitoring
Conduct targeted autecological research to inform habitat management. (ACTION: NE)
Develop a methodology for captive rearing. (ACTION: NE)
Establish a regular monitoring programme for this species. (ACTION: NE)
Pass information gathered during survey and monitoring of this species to a central database for incorporation in national and international databases. (ACTION: NE)
Encourage research into the ecology and conservation of this species on an international level, and use the experience gained towards its conservation in the UK. (ACTION: NE, JNCC)
Communications and Publicity
Promote opportunities for the appreciation of the species and the conservation issues associated with its habitat. This should be achieved through articles within appropriate journals, as well as by a publicity leaflet. (ACTION: NE)
Links with other action plans
The following LBAPs are working on Formica rufibarbis:
Originally published in: UK Biodiversity Group Tranche 2 Action Plans - Volume IV: Invertebrates (March 1999, Tranche 2, Vol IV, p245)
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