- 1We tested for density-dependent regulation of biomass in a population of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta and examined the mechanisms of population recovery following replicated colony removals.
- 2 All colonies were killed within the core area (1018 m2) of six plots, while six additional plots served as undisturbed controls. Over the next 5 years, colonies were mapped several times per year and the biomass of each colony was estimated from the volume of the nest-mound.
- 3 The average biomass and density of colonies within the removal areas gradually converged on those of control plots and were no longer detectably different after two years. Thereafter, ant biomass on experimental and control plots showed nearly identical seasonal and yearly fluctuations.
- 4Territories of colonies surrounding the removal areas rapidly expanded following the deaths of neighbours, while average territory size on control plots showed little short-term change.
- 5 Significantly more new colonies were established within core areas of experimental plots than within core areas of control plots during the first year following removals.
- 6 The per-colony probability of movement and the net influx of colony biomass were significantly higher in central regions of the experimental plots than in control plots during the first year. The directions of colony movements were clustered towards the centres of experimental plots in the first 2 years, but did not show significant directional trends on control plots.
- 7 In all 5 years of the study, annual mortality rates were lower for larger colonies, but the size-specific risk of mortality was not significantly affected by the experimental removal of competitors.
- 8 The growth rates of colonies, adjusted for initial size, were significantly higher in central regions of experimental plots than in control plots during the first two years of the study. In all years, colony growth rates declined with increasing colony size.
- 9 These results indicate that populations of S. invicta are regulated by competition among neighbouring colonies. Due to large intraspecific variation in colony size, the dynamics of ant populations are described more accurately by measures of total ant biomass than by colony density alone.