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Argentine ants displace floral arthropods in a biodiversity hotspot

Authors

  • Lori Lach

    1. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Corson Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA,
    2. Zoology Department, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch, Cape Town, 7700 South Africa
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and present address: Lori Lach, School of Environmental Science, Murdoch University, 90 South St., Murdoch, WA 6150 Australia. E-mail: l.lach@murdoch.edu.au

ABSTRACT

Argentine ant (Linepithema humile (Mayr)) invasions are often associated with the displacement of ground-dwelling arthropods. Argentine ant invasions can also exert other effects on the community through interactions with plants and their associated arthropods. For example, carbohydrate resources (e.g. floral or extrafloral nectar) may influence foraging behaviour and interactions among ants and other arthropods. In South Africa's Cape Floristic Region, Argentine ants and some native ant species are attracted to the floral nectar of Leucospermum conocarpodendron Rourke (Proteaceae), a native tree that also has extrafloral nectaries (EFNs). Despite having relatively low abundance in pitfall traps, Argentine ants visited inflorescences more frequently and in higher abundance than the most frequently observed native ants, Camponotus spp., though neither native nor Argentine ant floral foraging was influenced by the EFNs. Non-metric multidimensional scaling revealed significant dissimilarity in arthropod communities on inflorescences with Argentine ants compared to inflorescences with native or no ants, with Coleoptera, Diptera, Hymenoptera, Arachnida, Orthoptera, and Blattaria all being underrepresented in inflorescences with Argentine ants compared to ant-excluded inflorescences. Native honeybees (Apis mellifera capensis Eschscholtz) spent 75% less time foraging on inflorescences with Argentine ants than on inflorescences without ants. Neither Argentine ant nor native ant visits to inflorescences had a detectable effect on seed set of Le. conocarpodendron. However, a pollen supplementation experiment revealed that like many other proteas, Le. conocarpodendron is not pollen-limited. Flower predation was negatively associated with increased ant visit frequency to the inflorescences, but did not differ among inflorescences visited by native and Argentine ants. Displacement of arthropods appears to be a consistent consequence of Argentine ant invasions. The displacement of floral arthropods by Argentine ants may have far-reaching consequences for this biodiversity hotspot and other regions that are rich in insect-pollinated plants.

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