, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 177-190

A comparison of floral resource exploitation by native and invasive Argentine ants

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Abstract

Ants are often considered antagonists when they visit flowers because they typically steal nectar without providing pollination services. Previous research on ant–flower interactions on two species of South African Proteaceae in the Cape Floral Kingdom revealed that the invasive Argentine ant (Linepithema humile), but not native ants, displace other floral arthropod visitors. To determine how common Argentine ant use of inflorescences is, how Argentine and native ant visits differ in the numbers they recruit to inflorescences, and what factors may affect Argentine and native ant foraging in inflorescences, I surveyed 723 inflorescences in 10 species in the genera Protea and Leucospermum across 16 sites and compared ant presence and abundance in inflorescences with abundance at nearby cat food and jam baits. Argentine ants were the most commonly encountered ant of the 22 observed. Argentine ants, as well as six species of native ants were present in all inflorescences for which they were present at nearby baits. Mean Argentine ant abundance per inflorescence was 4.4 ± 0.84 (SE) ants and similar to that of Anoplolepis custodiens and Crematogaster peringueyi, but higher than observed for the other most commonly encountered native ants, Camponotus niveosetosus and Lepisiota capensis. Both Argentine ants and A. custodiens were more likely to be found foraging in spring and under humid conditions, and in inflorescences closer to the ground, with lower sucrose concentrations, and with a greater proportion of open flowers. Argentine ants were more likely to be found in Protea inflorescences, whereas A. custodiens and L. capensis more often visited Leucospermum inflorescences. Considering its displacement of floral arthropods and widespread use of Proteaceae inflorescences, the Argentine ant could be posing a serious threat to plant and pollinator conservation in this biodiversity hotspot.

Handling Editor: Kris Wyckhuys.