Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Nest-plugging: interference competition in desert ants (Novomessor cockerelli and Pogonomyrmex barbatus)


Pogonomyrmex barbatus and Novomessor cockerelli, sympatric species of harvester ants in the Lower Sonoran desert, compete for seed resources. This study reports on a method of interference competition. Early in the morning, before P. barbatus' activity period, N. cockerelli fills the nest entrances of P. barbatus with sand. This delays the beginning of the P. barbatus activity period for 1–3 h. P. barbatus colonies near N. cockerelli nests were more likely to be plugged. Nest-plugging shifts the typical daily sequence of P. barbatus activities, including the onset of foraging, forward towards midday, when high temperatures force the colony back inside the nest. P. barbatus colonies do not compensate for late emergence or events impeding foraging by increasing foraging rate. Thus nest-plugging by N. cockerelli decreases the foraging capacity of P. barbatus colonies.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Adams ES, Traniello JFA (1981) Chemical interference competition by Monomorium minimum (Hymenopetera: Formicidae). Oecologia (Berlin) 51:265–270

  2. Brian MV, Hibble J, Kelly AF (1966) The dispersion of ant species in a southern English heath. J Anim Ecol 35:281–290

  3. Brown JH, Reichman OJ, Davidson DW (1979) Granivory in a desert ecosystem: experimental evidence for indirect facilitation of ants by rodents. Ecol 65(16):1780–1786

  4. Davidson DW (1980) Some consequences of diffuse competition in a desert ant community. Am Nat 116:92–105

  5. DeVita J (1979) Mechanisms of interference and foraging among colonies of the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex californicus in the Mojave desert. Ecol 60:729–737

  6. Gordon DM (1983) The relation of recruitment rate and activity rhythms in the harvester ant Pogonomyrmex barbatus. J Kans Ent Soc 56:277–285

  7. Gordon DM (1984) Species-specific patterns in the social activities of harvester ant colonies (Pogonomyrmex). Ins Soc 31:74–86

  8. Gordon DM (1986) The dynamics of the daily round of the harvester ant colony. Anim Behav 34:1402–1419

  9. Gordon DM (1987) Group-level dynamics in harvester ants: young colonies and the role of patrolling. Anim Behav 35:833–843

  10. Greenslade PJM (1971) Interspecific competition and frequency changes among ants in Solomon Islands coconut plantations. J Appl Ecol 8:323–352

  11. Hölldobler B (1976) Recruitment behavior, home range orientation and territoriality in harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 1:3–44

  12. Hölldobler B (1982) Interference strategy of Iridomyrmex pruinosum (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) during foraging. Oecologia (Berlin) 52:208–213

  13. Hölldobler B (1983) Chemical manipulation, enemy specification and intercolony communication in ant communities. In: Huber F, Markl H (eds) Neuroethology and Behavioral Physiology, Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, pp 354–365

  14. Hölldobler B (1984) Konkurrenzverhalten und Territorilatät in Ameisenpopulationen. In: Eisner T, Holldobler B, Lindauer M (eds) Information Processing in Animals vol 3, Gustav Fischer, New York, pp 25–70

  15. Hölldobler B (1986) Food robbing in ants, a form of interference competition. Oecologia (Berlin) 69:12–15

  16. Hölldobler B, Lumsden CJ (1980) Territorial strategies in ants. Science 210:732–739

  17. Hölldobler B, Stanton RC, Markl H (1978) Recruitment and food retrieving behavior in Novomessor (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) I. Chemical signals. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 4:163–181

  18. Levings SC, Traniello JFA (1981) Territoriality, nest dispersion and community structure in ants. Psyche 88:265–319

  19. Levins R, Pressick ML, Heatwole CH (1973) Coexistence patterns in insular ants. Am Sci 61:463–472

  20. Moglich MHJ, Alpert GD (1979) Stone dropping by Conomyrma bicolor: a new technique of interference competition. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 6:105–113

  21. Sokal RR, Rohlf FJ (1969) Biometry. WH Freeman, San Francisco

  22. Schoener TW (1983) Field experiments on interspecific competition. Am Nat 122:240–285

  23. Whitford WG, Ettershank G (1975) Factors affecting foraging activity in Chihahuan desert harvester ants. Env Entomol 4:689–696

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Deborah M. Gordon.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Gordon, D.M. Nest-plugging: interference competition in desert ants (Novomessor cockerelli and Pogonomyrmex barbatus). Oecologia 75, 114–118 (1988). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00378823

Download citation

Key words

  • Harvester ants
  • Interference competition
  • Lower Sonoran Desert
  • Pogonomyrmex
  • Novomessor