Influence of mound construction by red and hybrid imported fire ants on soil chemical properties and turfgrass in a sod production agroecosystem
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Mound construction by imported fire ants (Solenopsis spp.) actively modify the biogeochemical and physical properties of soil; however, their influence on nutrient levels in surrounding vegetation is poorly understood. Aside from the reported persistence of elevated available P and K levels in clay-rich soils one year after mound abandonment, the relative stability of nutrient concentrations from one season to the next is largely unknown. Nutrient concentrations were concurrently analysed from ant mounds and undisturbed soils as well as plant samples collected from warm-season turfgrass in a commercial sod production agroecosystem. Initial collection of soil and turfgrass samples coincided with peak annual biomass (September 2006); the second soil sample collection occurred over twelve weeks later during turfgrass dormancy and ant brood minimum (December 2006). Total C, C/N ratios, organic matter (OM), and Zn2+ concentrations as well as pH of ant mound soils were significantly higher than control plot soils; these trends persisted across seasons. Turfgrass harvested from ant mound perimeters in September exhibited elevated N, P, Ca2+, S, Cu2+, Fe2+, and Na+ concentrations. Evaluation of the relative stability of soil parameters across seasons revealed a significant drop in ant nest pH from September to December 2006. Total N of mound soils was distinctively greater than control soil counterparts during September only. Soil P, K+, Ca2+, Mg2+ and S (all macronutrients), as well as Na+ concentrations from ant mound soils were substantially elevated during the late Autumn to Winter transition compared to control soil locations, whereas Fe2+ and Mn2+ levels (both micronutrients) were significantly lower in ant mound soils versus control soil environments. Continuous pedoturbation by imported fire ants as well as seasonal shifts in mound soil chemistry resulting from changes in assimilation/dissimilation among mound biota may influence the site-specific effectiveness of microfaunal pathogens (e.g., Thelohania solenopsae) or parasites (e.g., Orasema spp.) identified as classical biological control agents of non-native Solenopsis spp. Therefore, further study of the intrinsic complexities of soil ecosystem dynamics of imported fire ant mounds across several seasons is warranted.
Keywords:Mound construction biogeochemistry Solenopsis invicta Solenopsis invicta x S. richteri turfgrass
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