Colonisation by a dominant ant facilitated by anthropogenic disturbance: effects on ant assemblage composition, biomass and resource use


  • Heloise Gibb,

  • Dieter F. Hochuli

H. Gibb and D. F. Hochuli, Inst. of Wildlife Research, School of Biological Sciences, Heydon-Laurence Building A08, The Univ. of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia (


Dominant species are thought to regulate species composition and assemblage structure. Invasion by a dominant species is thus likely to alter assemblages and anthropogenic disturbance often facilitates such invasions. In this study we examined the association of a dominant ant, Iridomyrmex purpureus, native to south-eastern Australia, with fire trails in national parks and its effects on ant assemblages. Association with fire trails was examined by comparing the numbers of I. purpureus nests on transects along fire trails with those in transects through surrounding vegetation. Ant assemblages and habitat characteristics of eight sandstone outcrops that supported colonies of I. purpureus were compared with those on eight that did not in summer and autumn 2000. We examined ant species richness, abundance, composition and biomass using quadrats, and resource use with Acacia botrycephalus seeds placed on rock and in vegetation. I. purpureus nests were considerably more common along fire trails than in surrounding vegetation. Sites with I. purpureus had similar species richness to those without, but a lower abundance and biomass of other ants and a different assemblage composition. These differences could not be attributed to any differences in measured habitat characteristics. Ecologically similar species, particularly other species of Iridomyrmex, were less abundant in areas with I. purpureus. While the biomass of other species was suppressed in areas with I. purpureus, the biomass of the dominant was several times that of the assemblage of other ants, a pattern shared with assemblages invaded by exotic species. In areas with I. purpureus, seeds were removed more rapidly from rock, but not vegetation, indicating that resources on rock may be under-exploited by other species. Regulation of invaded ant assemblages by this dominant ant is thus limited to functionally similar species, and this may be due to its use of resources that are unexploited in its absence.