Patterns of floral resource use by two dominant ant species in a biodiversity hotspot
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Ecological dominance in ants is often fuelled by carbohydrate intake. Most studies have focused on the importance of invasive ant mutualistic associations with trophobionts whereas few studies have investigated the importance of floral nectar on invasion success. In this study, utilisation of temporarily available floral nectar by the invasive Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, was compared to that of the dominant native ant, Anoplolepis custodiens, within the Cape Floristic Region (CFR), a biodiversity hotspot. The effect of these two focal ant species on species composition and abundance of ground foraging ants as well as floral arthropod visitors in inflorescences of Proteacea species was assessed. Foraging activity, and trophic ecology inferred from the abundance of natural stable isotopes of Carbon (δ13C) and Nitrogen (δ15N), and the ratio of Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N) were compared between the two ant species during three flowering periods. Linepithema humile significantly reduced the abundance and species diversity of both above-ground and floral arthropod species abundance and composition. Linepithema humile increased its foraging activity with increasing nectar availability, switching its diet to a more herbivorous one. Anoplolepis custodiens did not respond as effectively to increasing floral nectar or negatively impact floral arthropod visitors. This study showed that the availability of floral nectar and ability of L. humile to more effectively utilise this temporarily available resource than native ants, can contribute significantly to the further spread and persistence of L. humile in natural environments in the CFR.
- RESEARCH: Wossler T