, Volume 52, Issue 3, pp 257-262

Interference and exploitation competition of three nectar-thieving invasive ant species

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Summary.

Plant and insect exudates are known to play a key role in structuring tropical ant communities, but less is known about the utilization of these resources in communities dominated by invasive ants. Invasive ants are thought to require large amounts of carbohydrates such as honeydew or nectar to maintain their high abundances. Invasive ants that consume floral nectar may compete with legitimate floral visitors through interference or exploitation competition. I compared the nectar-thieving behavior of three widespread invasive ant species: long-legged ants (Anoplolepis gracilipes), Argentine ants (Linepithema humile), and big-headed ants (Pheidole megacephala) in inflorescences of the native Hawaiian ‘ōhi’a tree, an important food source for native fauna. A. gracilipes was least likely to leave inflorescences unvisited and visited inflorescences in higher numbers than both L. humile and P. megacephala. A. gracilipes and L. humile visited more flowers in an inflorescence and were less likely to retreat from a flower with a competitor than P. megacephala. A. gracilipes was able to take 5.5 and 11.3 times the amount of nectar than L. humile and P. megacephala, respectively. Thus, A. gracilipes may be effective at both interference and exploitation competition against other nectarivores, L. humile may be effective at interference competition, and P. megacephala may be relatively weak at both types of competition against other nectarivores. Ascertaining the competitive abilities of invasive ants against legitimate floral visitors will be especially important in agricultural and other systems that are nectar or pollinator limited.

Received 6 December 2004; revised 13 January 2005; accepted 14 January 2005.