Collapse of an ant–scale mutualism in a rainforest on Christmas Island


  • Kirsti L. Abbott,

  • Peter T. Green

K. L. Abbott ( and P. T. Green, School of Biological Sciences, PO Box 18, Monash Univ., Melbourne VIC 3800, Australia. Present address for KLA: 27 Abercrombie St, Balwyn VIC 3103, Australia. Present address for PTG: Dept of Botany, La Trobe Univ., Melbourne VIC 3086, Australia.


Positive interactions play a widespread role in facilitating biological invasions. Here we use a landscape–scale ant exclusion experiment to show that widespread invasion of tropical rainforest by honeydew-producing scale insects on Christmas Island (Indian Ocean) has been facilitated by positive interactions with the invasive ant Anoplolepisgracilipes. Toxic bait was used to exclude A. gracilipes from large (9–35 ha) forest patches. Within 11 weeks, ant activity on the ground and on trunks had been reduced by 98–100%, while activity on control plots remained unchanged. The exclusion of ants caused a 100% decline in the density of scale insects in the canopies of three rainforest trees in 12 months (Inocarpus fagifer, Syzygiumnervosum and Barringtonia racemosa), but on B. racemosa densities of scale insects also declined in control plots, resulting in no effect of ant exclusion on this species. This study demonstrates the role of positive interactions in facilitating biological invasions, and supports recent models calling for greater recognition of the role of positive interactions in structuring ecological communities.