ID guide | introduced ants

Mutualism between co-introduced species facilitates invasion and alters plant community structure

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2014
Authors:K. M. Prior, Robinson, J. M., Dunphy, S. A. Meadley, Frederickson, M. E.
Journal:Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Date Published:12/2014
Keywords:co-introduced species, invasional meltdown, mutualisms, myrmecochory, seed dispersal

Generalized mutualisms are often predicted to be resilient to changes in partner identity. Variation in mutualism-related traits between native and invasive species however, can exacerbate the spread of invasive species (‘invasional meltdown’) if invasive partners strongly interact. Here we show how invasion by a seed-dispersing ant (Myrmica rubra) promotes recruitment of a co-introduced invasive over native ant-dispersed (myrmecochorous) plants. We created experimental communities of invasive (M. rubra) or native ants (Aphaenogaster rudis) and invasive and native plants and measured seed dispersal and plant recruitment. In our mesocosms, and in laboratory and field trials, M. rubra acted as a superior seed disperser relative to the native ant. By contrast, previous studies have found that invasive ants are often poor seed dispersers compared with native ants. Despite belonging to the same behavioural guild, seed-dispersing ants were not functionally redundant. Instead, native and invasive ants had strongly divergent effects on plant communities: the invasive plant dominated in the presence of the invasive ant and the native plants dominated in the presence of the native ant. Community changes were not due to preferences for coevolved partners: variation in functional traits of linked partners drove differences. Here, we show that strongly interacting introduced mutualists can be major drivers of ecological change.

Short Title:Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
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Scratchpads developed and conceived by (alphabetical): Ed Baker, Katherine Bouton Alice Heaton Dimitris Koureas, Laurence Livermore, Dave Roberts, Simon Rycroft, Ben Scott, Vince Smith