Plant Ecology

, Volume 218, Issue 11–12, pp 1255–1268 | Cite as

Ant interactions with native and exotic seeds in the Patagonian steppe: Influence of seed traits, disturbance levels and ant assemblage

  • Gabriela Inés Pirk
  • Javier Lopez de Casenave


Invasive plants may establish strong interactions with species in their new range which could limit or enhance their establishment and spread. These interactions depend upon traits of the invader and the recipient community, and may alter interactions among native species. In the Patagonian steppe we studied interactions of native ant assemblages with seeds of native and exotic plants, and asked whether ant–seed interactions differ with seed types and disturbance levels and whether the amount and type of ant–seed interactions can be predicted if both ant and seed traits are known. To characterize and quantify ant–seed interactions, we offered baits with large seeds of Pappostipa speciosa (native) and medium-sized elaiosome-bearing seeds of Carduus thoermeri (exotic), near and far from a road (high vs. low disturbed areas), and compared ant abundance and composition between areas. Interaction frequency was the highest for C. thoermeri seeds far from the road. Composition of ants interacting with C. thoermeri in these areas differed from that near the road and from that interacting with native seeds. Ant composition and abundance were similar between areas, but some species interacted more with exotic seeds in low disturbed areas. Ant foraging type predicted ant–seed interactions since the abundance of seed harvesters was positively correlated to interactions with P. speciosa, and that of generalists and predators, with interactions with C. thoermeri. The high interaction of ants with exotic seeds in low invaded areas suggests that ant activity could influence plant invasion, either by predating or dispersing seeds of invasive plants.


Plant invasion Formicidae Granivory Patagonia Road disturbance 



We thank L. Elizalde, J. Franzese, N. Lescano, M. Alma and A. Devegili for their critical reading of previous versions of this manuscript and the valuable comments of two anonymous reviewers which helped to improve it. L. Aput, M. Carruitero helped in the field and laboratory. P. Fergnani and V. Werenkraut helped with ant identification. A. Farji-Brener gave valuable help at several stages of this study. Financial support was supplied by Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica of Argentina (PICT 2008-0352 and PICT 2015-1304). This is contribution number 101 of the Desert Community Ecology Research Team (Ecodes) of IADIZA Institute (CONICET) and FCEN (Universidad de Buenos Aires).

Supplementary material

11258_2017_764_MOESM1_ESM.docx (41 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 41 kb)


  1. Alba-Lyn C, Henk S (2010) Potential for ants and vertebrate predators to shape seed-dispersal dynamics of the invasive thistles Cirsium arvense and Carduus nutans in their introduced range (North America). Plant Ecol 201:291–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Azcárate FM, Arqueros L, Sánchez AM, Peco B (2005) Seed and fruit selection by harvester ants, Messor barbarus, in Mediterranean grassland and scrubland. Funct Ecol 19:273–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bestelmeyer BT, Wiens JA (1996) The effects of land use on the structure of ground-foraging ant communities in the Argentine Chaco. Ecol Appl 6:1225–1240CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blaney CS, Kotanen PM (2001) Post-dispersal losses to seed predators: an experimental comparison of native and exotic old field plants. Can J Bot 79:284–292Google Scholar
  5. Bologna A, Detrain C (2015) Steep decline and cessation in seed dispersal by Myrmica rubra ants. PLoS ONE 10:e0139365. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0139365 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown WL Jr (2000) Diversity of ants. In: Agosti D, Majer JD, Alonso LE, Schultz TR (eds) Ants: standard methods for measuring and monitoring biodiversity. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC, pp 45–79Google Scholar
  7. Carroll CR, Janzen DH (1973) Ecology of foraging by ants. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 4:231–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Claver S, Lagos Silnik S, Fernández Campon F (2014) Response of ants to grazing disturbance at the central Monte Desert of Argentina: community descriptors and functional group scheme. J Arid Land 6:117–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crist TO, MacMahon JA (1992) Harvester ant foraging and shrub-steppe seeds: interactions of seed resources and seed use. Ecology 73:1768–1779CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. DeMers MN (1993) Roadside ditches as corridors for range expansion of the western harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex occidentalis Cresson). Landsc Ecol 8:93–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Espigares T, López-Pintor A (2005) Seed predation in a Mediterranean pasture: can ants modify the floristic composition of soil seed banks? Rev Chil Hist Nat 78:615–622CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Farji-Brener AG (1996) Posibles vías de expansión de la hormiga cortadora de hojas Acromyrmex lobicornis hacia la Patagonia. Ecol Aust 6:144–150Google Scholar
  13. Farji-Brener AG, Ghermandi L (2008) Leaf-cutting ant nests near roads increase fitness of exotic plant species in natural protected areas. Proc R Soc Lond B 275:1431–1440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fergnani PN, Sackmann P, Ruggiero A (2013) The spatial variation in ant species composition and functional groups across the Subantarctic-Patagonian transition zone. J Insect Conserv 17:295–305CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Folgarait P, Sala O (2002) Granivory rates by rodents, insects, and birds at different microsites in the Patagonian steppe. Ecography 25:417–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Forman RT, Alexander LE (1998) Roads and their major ecological effects. Annu Rev Ecol Syst 29:207–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. French K, Major RE (2001) Effect of an exotic Acacia (Fabaceae) on ant assemblages in South African fynbos. Aust Ecol 26:303–310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ghermandi L (1997) Seasonal patterns in the seed bank of a grassland in north-western Patagonia. J Arid Environ 35:215–224CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. González S, Franzese J, Ghermandi L (2010) Role of fire on Patagonian grasslands: changes in aboveground vegetation and soil seed bank. In: Haider M, Müller T (eds) Advances in environmental research. Nova Science Publishers, New York, pp 243–264Google Scholar
  20. Heithaus ER, Heithaus P, Liu SY (2005) Satiation in collection of myrmecochorous diaspores by colonies of Aphaenogaster rudis (Formicidae: Myrmicinae) in Central Ohio, USA. J Insect Behav 18:827–846CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hughes L, Westoby M, Jurado E (1994) Convergence of elaiosomes and insect prey: evidence from ant foraging behavior and fatty acid composition. Funct Ecol 8:358–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Inouye RS, Byers G, Brown JH (1980) Effects of predation and competition on survivorship, fecundity, and community structure of desert annuals. Ecology 61:1344–1351CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Jongejans E, Silverman EJ, Skarpaas O, Shea K (2015) Post-dispersal seed removal of Carduus nutans and C. acanthoides by insects and small mammals. Ecol Res 30:173–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Kelrick MI, MacMahon JA, Parmenter RR, Sisson DV (1986) Native seed preferences of shrub-steppe rodents, birds and ants: the relationships of seed attributes and seed use. Oecologia 68:327–337CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Kusnezov N (1959) La fauna de hormigas del oeste de la Patagonia y Tierra del fuego. Acta Zool Lillo 17:321–401Google Scholar
  26. Kusnezov N (1978) Hormigas argentinas: clave para su identificación. Fundación Miguel Lillo, TucumánGoogle Scholar
  27. Lassau SA, Hochuli DF (2004) Effects of habitat complexity on ant assemblages. Ecography 27:157–164CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lescano MN, Farji-Brener AG (2011) Exotic thistles increase native ant abundance through the maintenance of enhanced aphid populations. Ecol Res 26:827–834CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Levine JM, Adler PB, Yelenik SG (2004) A meta-analysis of biotic resistance to exotic plant invasions. Ecol Lett 7: 975–989CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lopez de Casenave J, Cueto VR, Marone L (1998) Granivory in the Monte desert: is it less intense than in other arid zones of the world? Global Ecol Biogeogr Lett 7:197–204CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Louda SM, Potvin MA (1995) Effect of inflorescence-feeding insects on the demography and lifetime fitness of a native plant. Ecology 76:229–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mack RN, Simberloff D, Lonsdale WM et al (2000) Biotic invasions: causes, epidemiology, global consequences, and control. Ecol Appl 10:689–710CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. MacMahon JA, Mull JF, Crist TO (2000) Harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex spp.): their community and ecosystem influences. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 31:265–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Margutti L, Ghermandi L, Rapoport E (1996) Seed bank and vegetation in a Patagonian roadside. Int J Ecol Environ Sci 22:159–175Google Scholar
  35. Medel RG, Vásquez RA (1994) Comparative analysis of harvester ant assemblages of Argentinian and Chilean arid zones. J Arid Environ 26:363–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mitchell CE, Agrawal A, Bever JD, Gilbert GS, Hufbauer RA, Klironomos JN, Maron JL, Morris WF, Parker IM, Power AG, Seabloom EW, Torchin ME, Vázquez DP (2006) Biotic interactions and plant invasions. Ecol Lett 9:726–740CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  37. Pazos G, Bertiller M (2008) Spatial patterns of the germinable soil seed bank of coexisting perennial-grass species in grazed shrublands of the Patagonian Monte. Plant Ecol 198:111–120CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pearson DE, Callaway RM (2003) Indirect effects of host-specific biological control agents. Trends Ecol Evol 18:456–461CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Pearson DE, Hierro JL, Chiuffo M, Villarreal D (2014a) Rodent seed predation as a biotic filter influencing exotic plant abundance and distribution. Biol Invasions 16:1185–1196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Pearson DE, Icasatti NS, Hierro JL, Bird BJ (2014b) Are local filters blind to provenance? Ant seed predation suppresses exotic plants more than natives. PLoS ONE 9:e103824. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103824 CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  41. Pemberton RW, Irving DW (1990) Elaiosomes on weed seeds and the potential for myrmecochory in naturalized plants. Weed Sci 38:615–619Google Scholar
  42. Pirk GI, Lopez de Casenave J (2010) Influence of seed size on feeding preferences and diet composition of three sympatric harvester ants in the central Monte desert. Ecol Res 25:439–445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Pirk GI, Lopez de Casenave J (2011) Seed preferences of harvester ants, Pogonomyrmex spp., in the central Monte desert. Ann Entomol Soc Am 104:212–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pirk GI, Lopez de Casenave J, Pol R (2004) Asociación de las hormigas granívoras Pogonomyrmex pronotalis, P. rastratus y P. inermis con caminos en el Monte central. Ecol Aust 14:65–76Google Scholar
  45. Richardson DM, Pysĕk P, Rejmánek M et al (2000) Naturalization and invasion of alien plants: concepts and definitions. Div Distrib 6:93–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rico-Gray V, Oliveira P (2007) The ecology and evolution of ant-plant interactions. The University of Chicago Press, ChicagoCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Samson DA, Philippi TE, Davidson DW (1992) Granivory and competition as determinants of annual plant diversity in the Chihuahuan desert. Oikos 64:61–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Snelling RR, Hunt JH (1975) The ants of Chile (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Rev Chil Entomol 9:63–129Google Scholar
  49. Speziale K, Ezcurra C (2011) Patterns of alien plant invasions in northwestern patagonia, argentina. J Arid Environ 75:890–897CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Stiles JH, Jones RH (1998) Distribution of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, in road and powerline habitats. Landsc Ecol 13:335–346CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Traveset A, Richardson DM (2006) Biological invasions as disruptors of plant reproductive mutualisms. Trends Ecol Evol 21:208–216CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Vilà M, Gimeno I (2003) Seed predation of two alien Opuntia species invading Mediterranean Communities. Plant Ecol 167:1–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Williamson M (1996) Biological invasions. Chapman and Hall, LondonGoogle Scholar
  54. Zuloaga F, Morrone O, Rodríguez D (1999) Análisis de la biodiversidad en plantas vasculares de la Argentina. Kurtziana 27:17–167Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriela Inés Pirk
    • 1
  • Javier Lopez de Casenave
    • 2
  1. 1.Laboratorio EcotonoINIBIOMA, CONICET- Universidad Nacional del ComahueBarilocheArgentina
  2. 2.Grupo de Investigación en Ecología de Comunidades de Desierto, Departamento de Ecología, Genética y Evolución, Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y NaturalesUniversidad de Buenos Aires, and IEGEBA (UBA-CONICET), Argentina, Ciudad UniversitariaBuenos AiresArgentina

Personalised recommendations