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Widespread Association of the Invasive Ant Solenopsis invicta with an Invasive Mealybug

Ken R. Helms and S. Bradleigh Vinson
Ecology
Vol. 83, No. 9 (Sep., 2002), pp. 2425-2438
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/3071804
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3071804
Page Count: 14
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Widespread Association of the Invasive Ant Solenopsis invicta with an Invasive Mealybug
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Abstract

Factors such as aggressiveness and adaptation to disturbed environments have been suggested as important characteristics of invasive ant species, but diet has rarely been considered. However, because invasive ants reach extraordinary densities at introduced locations, increased feeding efficiency or increased exploitation of new foods should be important in their success. Earlier studies suggest that honeydew produced by Homoptera (e.g., aphids, mealybugs, scale insects) may be important in the diet of the invasive ant species Solenopsis invicta. To determine if this is the case, we studied associations of S. invicta and Homoptera in east Texas and conducted a regional survey for such associations throughout the species' range in the southeast United States. In east Texas, we found that S. invicta tended Homoptera extensively and actively constructed shelters around them. The shelters housed a variety of Homoptera whose frequency differed according to either site location or season, presumably because of differences in host plant availability and temperature. Overall, we estimate that the honeydew produced in Homoptera shelters at study sites in east Texas could supply nearly one-half of the daily energetic requirements of an S. invicta colony. Of that, 70% may come from a single species of invasive Homoptera, the mealybug Antonina graminis. Homoptera shelters were also common at regional survey sites and A. graminis occurred in shelters at nine of 11 survey sites. A comparison of shelter densities at survey sites and in east Texas suggests that our results from east Texas could apply throughout the range of S. invicta in the southeast United States. Antonina graminis may be an exceptionally important nutritional resource for S. invicta in the southeast United States. While it remains largely unstudied, the tending of introduced or invasive Homoptera also appears important to other, and perhaps all, invasive ant species. Exploitative or mutually beneficial associations that occur between these insects may be an important, previously unrecognized factor promoting their success.

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