ID guide | introduced ants

Revisiting the ants of Melanesia and the taxon cycle: historical and human-mediated invasions of a tropical archipelago

Publication Type:Journal Article
Year of Publication:2012
Authors:E. P. Economo, Sarnat E. M.
Keywords:taxon cycle, island biogeography, invasive species, Formicidae, Pacific islands, Pheidole, Fiji

Understanding the historical evolution of biotas and the dynamics of contemporary human-mediated species introductions are two central tasks of biology. One hypothesis may address both—the taxon cycle. Taxon cycles are phases of range expansion and contraction coupled to ecological and evolutionary niche shifts. These historical invasion processes resemble human-mediated invasions in pattern and possibly mechanism, but both the existence of historical cycles and the roles of recent introductions are in question. We return to the system that originally inspired the taxon cycle—Melanesian ants—and perform novel tests of the hypothesis. We analyze (i) the habitat distributions of Fiji’s entire ant fauna (183 species), (ii) ecological shifts associated with the in situ radiation of Fijian Pheidole in a phylogenetic context, and (iii) the ecological structure of a massive exotic ant invasion of the archipelago. Our analyses indicate lineages shift toward primary habitats, higher elevation, rarity, and ecological specialization with increasing level of endemism, consistent with taxon cycle predictions. The marginal habitats that historically formed a dispersal conduit in the Pacific are now mostly replaced by human-modified habitats dominated by a colonization pulse of exotic species. We propose this may represent the first phase of an incipient global cycle of human-mediated colonization, ecological shifts, and diversification.

Alternate Journal:American Naturalist
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