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Ecology. 2007 Aug;88(8):1994-2004.

A mutualism with a native membracid facilitates pollinator displacement by Argentine ants.

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  • Cornell University, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Corson Hall, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. l.lach@murdoch.edu.au


The loss of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services are major threats posed by the spread of alien invasive species. Invasive ants are frequently associated with declines in the diversity of ground-dwelling arthropods but also may affect plants through their attraction to floral nectar and tending of hemipterans. Protea nitida is a tree native to the South African fynbos that hosts a native membracid, Beaufortiana sp., which is tended by ants. Here I compare Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) to native ants in their attraction to P. nitida inflorescences in the presence and absence of the membracid, and their effects on other floral arthropod visitors, seed set, and ovule predation. Argentine ant discovery of inflorescences increased at least 13-fold when membracids were present on the branch, whereas native ant discovery of inflorescences was only doubled by membracid presence at one site in one study year and was unaffected in the other three site-years. Excluding Argentine ants from inflorescences resulted in an increase in several arthropod taxa and potential pollinators; native ant exclusion had no positive effects. Thus the mutualism between Argentine ants and the membracid is facilitating pollinator deterrence by the ants. Though Argentine ants were not associated with a decline in P. nitida seed set or ovule predation, declines in generalist insect pollinators may have ramifications for the 83% of fynbos plants that are insect pollinated. Pitfall traps showed that Argentine ants were not more abundant than native ants in non-invaded sites. Focusing only on abundance on the ground and displacement of ground-dwelling arthropod fauna may lead to an underestimate of the effects of invasive ants on their adopted communities.

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