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Competitive Mechanisms Underlying the Displacement of Native Ants by the Invasive Argentine Ant

David A. Holway
Ecology
Vol. 80, No. 1 (Jan., 1999), pp. 238-251
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/176993
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/176993
Page Count: 14
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Abstract

The Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) is a widespread invasive species that competitively displaces native ants throughout its introduced range. Although this pattern of displacement is well known, its underlying mechanisms remain little studied. To gain a more detailed understanding of this widespread competitive displacement, I compared the exploitative and interference abilities of the Argentine ant with those of seven species of native ants it displaces in riparian woodlands in northern California. I performed four different manipulative field experiments; each measured different aspects of the competitive ability of the eight species of ants in this study. The main goals of this study were to identify the mechanisms responsible for the Argentine ant's strong competitive ability, to determine if native ants are subject to species-specific trade-offs in exploitative and interference ability typically present among coexisting ants, and if so, to assess whether Argentine ants are subject to this trade-off as well. Argentine ants located and recruited to baits as quickly or more quickly than did native ants--both in areas where Argentine ants and native ants occurred together (i.e., at the edge of invasion fronts) and where they occurred separately (i.e., away from invasion fronts). Along the edge of invasion fronts, Argentine ants also controlled a greater proportion of baits than did native ants. In one-on-one interactions, individual Argentine ant workers experienced mixed success in overcoming individual workers of the seven native ant species. When fighting against native ants, Argentine ants used both physical aggression and chemical defensive compounds, although the latter mechanism was more often successful in deterring opponents. Chemical defensive compounds produced by Argentine ants were repellent but appeared no more so than those of native ants. Although Argentine ant workers were not able to overcome native ant workers consistently, Argentine ant colonies succeeded in displacing most native ant colonies from baits. The discrepancy between worker-level and colony-level interference ability suggests that numerical advantages are key to the Argentine ant's proficiency at interference competition. Like ants in other communities, the native ants in this study were subject to a competitive trade-off in which interference ability and exploitative ability were negatively correlated. In contrast, Argentine ants were proficient at both exploitative and interference competition relative to the native ants they displaced and are thus removed from this trade-off. These findings imply that Argentine ants secure a majority of available food resources where this species comes into contact with native ants. Argentine ants may be able to break the competitive trade-off constraining native ants because of their unique colony structure and because they have escaped their natural enemies. The observation that Argentine ants are uncoupled from the competitive trade-off constraining native ants may provide a general explanation for patterns of dominance within ant communities and for the success of other introduced species.

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