Biological Invasions

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 467–473 | Cite as

History, genetics and pathology of a leaf-cutting ant introduction: a case study of the Guadeloupe invasion

  • Alexander S. Mikheyev
Original Paper


As dominant herbivores and notorious pests in their native Neotropics, introduced leaf-cutting ants have the potential for ecological and economic harm. Although a large-scale invasion of leaf-cutting ants has not occurred, an isolated introduction in the Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe provides useful insight into the progress of such an invasion. Since being first detected in 1954, Acromyrmex octospinosus has colonized virtually all available land area, defying an aggressive control campaign and damaging agriculture. I attempted to reconstruct the origins and spread of the invasion, as well as screen for the presence of garden pathogens, which could be used for biological control. Mitochondrial sequencing of the A. octospinosus complex throughout the Caribbean showed that the probable source of the invasion lies on Trinidad and Tobago or northeast South America. Using historical records and field surveys, the invasion’s rate of spread was estimated at 0.51 km/year. Microsatellite genotyping further confirmed the limited dispersal abilities of A. octospinosus, showing the presence of isolation by distance (even in a relatively small geographic area) and suggested ubiquitous local inbreeding. Although the invasion likely resulted from the introduction of a single colony, microsatellites showed a high level of genetic variation in the introduced population, likely as a consequence of multiple mating by the queen. A survey showed that the specialized fungus garden pathogen Escovopsis exists on the islands, suggesting that the successful spread of the ants was not due to escape from this parasite. Given that chemical control has failed in the past and that biological control using specialized garden pathogens seems improbable, only vigorous quarantine and inspection programs may prevent wide-scale leaf-cutting ant invasions in the future.


Dispersal Ecological release Fungus-gardening ants Phylogeography Pseudonocardia Symbiosis 



I am extremely grateful to Wetterer and Schultz for providing material without which the phylogeographic analysis would have been impossible. I thank Gerardo for help advice on how to collect Escovopsis and, along with Taerum, for help in identifying Escovopsis. Scott and Abbott provided valuable advice for the molecular analyses. I would like to thank Solomon, Scott, Economo and Rabeling for their companionship and help during our travels through the Caribbean. I am also grateful to Solomon and Schmidt for reading and substantially improving the manuscript through their comments. The manuscript has benefited from the excellent comments of two anonymous reviewers. Last but not least, I would like to thank my Ph.D. advisor UG Mueller for permitting me the freedom carry out this work in his lab and for generously allowing the use of funds from his NSF CAREER grant (DEB-9983879). Additional funding for this research has been funded by a fellowship from the US EPA and research grants from the University of Texas section of Ecology, Evolution and Behavior, as well as from a NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant (DEB-0508613).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section of Integrative Biology C0930University TexasAustinUSA

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