Dr. Erik Frank
Dr. Erik Frank
Campus Nord, University of Würzburg
I am interested in animal behaviour, ecology and evolution. More specifically predator-prey interactions, social immunity and chemical communication in tropical species.
My main study organism is the termite-hunting ant species Megaponera analis (located in sub-Saharan Africa). The evolutionary arms race between its termite prey and M. analis has led to some ingenious mechanisms to increase their efficiency as predators and lower their mortality (like caring for their injured). Further study organisms include the ant genus Eciton in the Neotropics and the genus Camponotus across the globe.
Questions I am interested in are on the evolution of social wound care behaviours towards injured individuals: which are the driving factors that benefit its evolution? what strategies did different species evolve to combat infections on the wound?
Other research topics I work on are on:
- Group versus individual decision making in mass-recruiting ants
- The scouting and foraging behaviour of M. analis
- Caste dependent Cuticular Hydrocarbon (CHC) profile changes in social insects
- How CHCs change under abiotic stresses in social insects
- How the gut-microbiota affects the CHC profile in honeybees
- Ant species composition and diversity in a tropical savannah (Comoé Nationalpark, Côte d'Ivoire)
Evolution of Social Wound Care in Ants
Understanding how social animals combat diseases could offer promising new insights into our own responses to health threats. Over the past decade, the field of social immunity has become increasingly important to understand the evolution and interactions of social organisms. It is now considered to be one of the basal traits necessary for sociality to evolve in insects as it allows overcoming increased disease risks caused by high densities of related individuals in a confined area. Research in social immunity has also led to new insights on disease spread in complex interaction networks and helped us discover new antibiotics , allowing us to better understand and combat epidemics in human societies.
The field of social wound care derives from social immunity, focusing on how social insects take care of injured individuals in the colony. These injuries can be cut off extermities or other animals clinging on to the body.
Open wounds pose a major health risk for individuals. Recent discoveries in ants showed that other members of the group do not only rescue injured individuals from danger, but also treat open wounds with antimicrobial compounds, thereby preventing an infection outbreak (Frank et al. 2017, Frank et al. 2018). These behaviours have until now only been described in one population of the termite-hunting ant species Megaponera analis (in Côte d’Ivoire), whereas it is absent in another population of the species in Mozambique where it hunts less pugnacious prey. However, preliminary results provide evidence for wound care towards injured individuals in another species, the army ant Eciton rapax in Ecuador. The large phylogenetic distance between Eciton and Megaponera (over 100 million years) suggests the convergent evolution of wound care behaviours.
The aim of this project is therefore to better understand the evolutionary processes leading to rescue and social wound care behaviour and to identify promising new wound treatment protocols, novel antimicrobial compounds and wound healing mechanisms fine-tuned through evolutionary processes to potentially improve upon our own medical system. This will be achieved by doing behavioural analyses in the field on different species and populations of Eciton and Megaponera, conducting chemical analyses of pheromones and antimicrobial compounds used during wound care and creating a mathematical model to identify the drivers for the evolution of wound care behaviour.
Emmy Noether Group Leader, Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, University of Würzburg, Germany
Assistant Professor, Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, University of Würzburg, Germany
Managing Director, Comoé National Park Research Station, Côte d'Ivoire
Post-doc, Department of Ecology and Evolution, University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Coordinator Comoé National Park Research Station, Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
PhD-Student Graduate School of Life Sciences, University of Würzburg, Germany
M.Sc. Biology, University of Würzburg, Germany
B.Sc. Biology, University of Würzburg, Germany
B.A. International Relations, University of Exeter, UK
Baccalaureate, European School Munich, Germany
Li Z, Frank ET, Oliveira-Honorato T, Azuma F, Bachmann V, Parker DJ, Schmitt T, Economo E, Ulrich Y (2023). Behavioural individuality determines infection risk in clonal ant colonies. In review. BioRxiv doi:
Frank ET,(link)L (2022). Infection signaling and antimicrobial wound care in an ant society. In review. BioRxiv doi:
Lopes LE, Frank ET, Schmitt T, Kronauer DJC (2022). The alarm pheromone and alarm response of the clonal raider ant. Accepted. Journal of Chemical Ecology doi:10.1007/s10886-023-01407-4
Pohl M, Frank ET, Gadau J (2023). Socio- and population genetic analyses of two West-African ponerine species (Megaponera analis and Paltothyreus tarsatus) with winged and wingless queens. Myrmecological News 33:77-89. doi:10.25849/myrmecol.news_033:077 (link)
Alciatore G, Ugelvig LV, Frank ET, Bidaux J, Gal A, Schmitt T, Kronauer DJC, Ulrich Y (2021) Immune challenges increase network centrality in a queenless ant. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 288:20211456. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2021.1456 (link)
Yusuf AA, Frank ET, Fombong AT, Pirk CWW, Crewe RM, Schmitt T, Strube-Bloss M, Gordon I, Torto B (2020) Odour-mediated group organization and coordination in the termite raiding and Megaponera analis (Mayr). Chemical Senses, 45:635–644, doi: 10.1093/chemse/bjaa058 (Link)
Frank ET, Wehrhahn M, Linsenmair KE (2018). Wound treatment and selective help in a termite-hunting ant. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 285:20172457. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2017.2457 (Link)
Frank ET, Hönle PO, Linsenmair KE (2018). Time optimized path-choice in the termite hunting ant Megaponera analis. Journal of Experimental Biology. doi: 10.1242/jeb.174854 (Link)
Frank ET, Schmitt T, Hovestadt T, Mitesser O, Stiegler J, Linsenmair KE (2017). Saving the injured: rescue behavior in the termite-hunting ant Megaponera analis, Science Advances 3:e1602187. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1602187 (Link)
Frank ET, Linsenmair KE (2017). Individual versus collective decision making: optimal foraging in the group-hunting termite specialist Megaponera analis, Animal Behaviour 130:27–35. doi: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2017.06.010 (Link)
Frank ET, Linsenmair KE (2017). Flexible task allocation and raid organization in the termite-hunting ant Megaponera analis, Insectes Sociaux 64:579–589, doi: 10.1007/s00040-017-0579-2 (Link)
Frank ET, Linsenmair KE (2017). Saving the injured: convergent evolution and mechanisms, Communicative and Integrative Biology, e1356516. doi: 10.1080/19420889.2017.1356516 (Link)
Books and Book chapters
Frank ET (2021). Matabele ants (Megaponera analis). Pp 578-584 In: Starr CK (ed), Encyclopedia of Social Insects. Cham, Switzerland:Springer. Link
Frank ET with Lavoix C (2020). Combattre, sauver, soigner: une histoire de fourmis. CNRS Editions, Paris, France. To the book
Book reviews: La Recherche, La Liberté
In the Media (selection)
Saving the injured (Frank et al. 2017)
Die Zeit, The Guardian, New York Times, El País, La Recherche
Woundcare in ants (Frank et al. 2018)
Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Guardian, LA Times, La Vanguardia, National Geographic, Le Monde
Optimal path choice (Frank et al. 2018)
Spektrum der Wissenschaft, Nature Highlights, Phys.org
Infection signalling and antimicrobial wound care in ants (Frank et al. 2022)