• Fire ants;
  • habitat disturbance;
  • intact ecosystem;
  • invasive;
  • Solenopsis invicta

Abstract 1. This correlational study examines the relationship between the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) and native ants in a longleaf pine savanna. Fire ants are frequently associated with a decline in native ants throughout the invaded range, but fire ant invasion is often coupled with habitat disturbance. Invasion of fire ants into the longleaf pine savanna provides an opportunity to examine the structure of the ant community in the absence of habitat disturbance.

2. Pitfall trapping was conducted within the longleaf pine savanna as well as across a naturally occurring soil moisture gradient, in plots that had been artificially watered.

3. Species richness did not vary as a function of fire ant density. There was an inverse relationship between native ant density and fire ant density, but this abundance pattern does not necessarily imply a causal link between fire ant invasion and native ant decline. For individual species, fire ant densities were negatively correlated with the densities of only two native ant species, including Solenopsis carolinensis, a native species that potentially limits the invasion of fire ants. Additionally, fire ants and native ants respond differently to soil moisture, with native ants favouring drier conditions than fire ants.

4. The possible exclusion of fire ants by some native ants, as well as differences in habitat preferences, provide alternative explanations for the frequently observed negative correlation between fire ants and native ants.