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Are invasive ants better plant-defense mutualists? A comparison of foliage patrolling and herbivory in sites with invasive yellow crazy ants and native weaver ants


Are invasive ants better plant-defense mutualists? A comparison of foliage patrolling and herbivory in sites with invasive yellow crazy ants and native weaver ants



Oikos 120(1): 9-16



ISSN/ISBN: 0030-1299

DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0706.2010.18803.x

Benefits arising from facultative mutualisms between ants and plants vary with the identity of the ant partner. Invasive and native ants are both attracted to plants that offer extrafloral nectar, but few studies have compared their abilities to displace herbivores and benefit plants. Yellow crazy ants Anoplolepis gracilipes have invaded eucalypt woodlands of Arnhem Land, northern Australia, where they displace the native dominant weaver ant Oecophylla smaragdina. We compared the plant defense services provided by A. gracilipes and O. smaragdina ants on trees with (Acacia lamprocarpa) and without (Eucalyptus tetrodonta) extrafloral nectar rewards through surrogate herbivore (termite) addition experiments and surveys of herbivore damage. Anoplolepis gracilipes were more likely than O. smaragdina to discover termites on A. lamprocarpa, but the likelihood of termite discovery on E. tetrodonta did not vary with ant species. Anoplolepis gracilipes were also more thorough in their attacks of termites, recruited 3.4-4 times more workers to termites, and were 3.4 times quicker at discovering termites on A. lamprocarpa than were O. smaragdina. Discovery of termites by other predators did not vary significantly between trees in A. gracilipes and O. smaragdina sites. Herbivory scores did not reflect the foliage patrolling pattern by the ants. Old A. lamprocarpa leaves and both new and old leaves and branches on E. tetrodonta in A. gracilipes sites had higher chewing herbivory scores than their counterparts in O. smaragdina sites. Our results reveal that the more aggressive and efficient foliar patrolling by A. gracilipes does not translate to increased plant protection. Ant invasions can disrupt native ant-plant mutualisms despite invasive ants possessing many traits associated with effective plant guarding.

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