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Keywords:

  • ant diversity;
  • biological invasion;
  • New Caledonia;
  • Wasmannia auropunctata

Abstract  For the last 30 years, Wasmannia auropunctata (the little fire ant) has spread throughout the Pacific and represents a severe threat to fragile island habitats. This invader has often been described as a disturbance specialist. Here we present data on its spread in a dense native rainforest in New Caledonia. We monitored by pitfall trapping the litter ant fauna along an invasive gradient from the edge to the inner forest in July 1999 and March 2000. When W. auropunctata was present, the abundance and richness of native ants drops dramatically. In invaded plots, W. auropunctata represented more than 92% of all trapped ant fauna. Among the 23 native species described, only four cryptic species survived. Wasmannia auropunctata appears to be a highly competitive ant that dominates the litter by eliminating native ants. Mechanisms involved in this invasive success may include predation as well as competitive interactions (exploitation and interference). The invasive success of W. auropunctata is similar to that of other tramp ants and reinforces the idea of common evolutionary traits leading to higher competitiveness in a new environment.