Factors governing rate of invasion: a natural experiment using Argentine ants
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Predicting the success of biological invasions is a major goal of invasion biology. Determining the causes of invasions, however, can be difficult, owing to the complexity and spatio-temporal heterogeneity of the invasion process. The purpose of this study was to assess factors influencing rate of invasion for the Argentine ant (Linepithema humile), a widespread invasive species. The rate of invasion for 20 independent Argentine ant populations was measured over 4 years in riparian woodlands in the lower Sacramento River Valley of northern California. A priori predictors of rate of invasion included stream flow (a measure of abiotic suitability), disturbance, and native ant richness. In addition, baits were used to estimate the abundance of Argentine ants and native ants at the 20 sites. A multiple regression model accounted for nearly half of the variation in mean rate of invasion (R2 = 0.46), but stream flow was the only significant factor in this analysis. Argentine ants spread, on average, 16 m year−1 at sites with permanent stream flow and retreated, on average, −6 m year−1 at sites with intermittent stream flow. Rate of invasion was independent of both disturbance and native ant richness. Argentine ants recruited to more baits in higher numbers in invaded areas than did native ants in uninvaded areas. In addition, rate of invasion was positively correlated with the proportion of baits recruited to by native ants in uninvaded areas. Together, these findings suggest that abiotic suitability is of paramount importance in determining rate of invasion for the Argentine ant.
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