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Importance of large colony size for successful invasion by Argentine ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): Evidence for biotic resistance by native ants

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Abstract

Abstract  The Argentine ant, Linepithema humile (Mayr), is a widespread invasive ant species that has been associated with losses of native ant species and other invertebrates from its introduced range. To date, various abiotic conditions have been associated with limitations to the spread of Argentine ants, however, competitive interactions with native ant fauna may also affect the spread of Argentine ants. Here, we experimentally manipulated colony sizes of Argentine ants in the laboratory to assess whether Argentine ants were able to survive and compete for resources with a widespread, dominant native ant, Iridomyrmexrufoniger’. The results showed that over 24 h, the proportions of Argentine ants that were alive, at baits, and at sugar water decreased significantly in the presence of Iridomyrmex. In addition, Argentine ant mortality increased over time, however, the proportion of the colony that was dead decreased with the largest colony size. Argentine ants were only able to overcome Iridomyrmex when their colony sizes were 5–10 times greater than those of the native ants. We also conducted trials in which colonies of Argentine ants of varying sizes were introduced to artificial baits occupied by Iridomyrmex in the field. The results showed that larger Argentine ant colonies significantly affected the foraging success of Iridomyrmex after the initial introduction (5 min). However, over the first 20 min, when the Argentine ants were present at the baits, and over the entire 50 min experimental period, the numbers of Iridomyrmex at baits did not differ significantly with the size of the Argentine ant colony. This is the first experimental study to investigate the role of colony size in the invasion biology of Argentine ants in Australia, and the results suggest that Iridomyrmex may reduce the spread of Argentine ants, and that Argentine ants may need to attain large colony sizes in order to survive in the presence of Iridomyrmex. We address the implications of these findings for the invasion success of Argentine ants in Australia, and discuss the ability of Argentine ants to attain large colony sizes in introduced areas.

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