Skip to main content

Effect of intraspecific competition on the demography of leaf-cutting ants: a matrix model approach

Abstract

Intraspecific competition is a pervasive phenomenon with important ecological and evolutionary consequences in ants. However, its effect at population level remains less known. We investigated the effect of intraspecific competition on the demography of the leaf-cutting ant Acromyrmex lobicornis using a stochastic matrix demographic model parameterized with 3 years of census data. Given that competition is a negative interaction with potential consequences on fitness, we expected that nests that share their foraging area with conspecific nests would have a lower population growth rate than nests that did not. The stochastic growth rate of all sampled nests showed positive values, but with differences according to their competitive condition. Nests that did not share their foraging area showed a 34% annual growth, while nests that shared their foraging area with another conspecific nest showed only 13%. This difference appears to be related to a reduced probability that small nests grow to medium size in the competitive condition, this transition being the one that contributes the most to the population growth rate. These results suggest that competitive interactions often restrict the growth of small nest sizes, supporting previous evidence that proposed young ant colonies as the most vulnerable demographic stage. The known pattern of low overlap in ant foraging areas could be a consequence of a lower population growth rate of nests under competitive conditions. This illustrates how selective pressures on individuals (e.g., ant nests) can influence demography, emphasizing the role of intraspecific competition at population level and the potential consequences for species density and geographical ranges.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Availability of data and material

Available in Fig. 2 and Table 1.

References

  • Acosta F, Lopez F, Serrano JM (1995) Dispersed versus central-place foraging: intra-and intercolonial competition in the strategy of trunk trail arrangement of a harvester ant. Am Nat 145:389–411

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Adams ES, Tschinkel WR (1995) Spatial dynamics of colony interactions in young populations of the fire ant Solenopsis invicta. Oecologia 102:156–163

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Adler PB, Smull D, Beard K, Choi R, Furniss T, Kulmatiski A et al (2018) Competition and coexistence in plant communities: intraspecific competition is stronger than interspecific competition. Ecol Lett 21:1319–1329

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Andersen AN, Patel AD (1994) Meat ants as dominant members of Australian ant communities: an experimental test of their influence on the foraging success and forager abundance of other species. Oecologia 98:15–24

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Andersen AN, Blum MS, Jones TH (1991) Venom alkaloids in Monomoriumrothsteini” Forel repel other ants: is this the secret to success by Monomorium in Australian ant communities? Oecologia 88:157–160

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ballari S, Farji-Brener AG, Tadey M (2007) Waste management in the leaf-cutting ant Acromyrmex lobicornis: division of labor, aggressive behavior, and location of external refuse dumps. J Ins Behav 20:87–98

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Benton TG, Grant A (1999) Elasticity analysis as an important tool in evolutionary and population ecology. Trends Ecol Evol 14:467–471

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bernstein RA, Gobbel M (1979) Partitioning of space in communities of ants. J Anim Ecol 48:931–942

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bollazzi M, Kronenbitter J, Roces F (2008) Soil temperature, digging behavior, and the adaptive value of nest depth in South American species of Acromyrmex leaf-cutting ants. Oecologia 158:165–175

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boulay R, Galarza JA, Chéron B, Hefetz A, Lenoir A, Oudenhove LV, Cerda X (2010) Intraspecific competition affects population size and resource allocation in an ant dispersing by colony fission. Ecology 91:3312–3321

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Caswell H (2001) Matrix population models: construction, analysis and interpretation, 2nd edn. Sinauer Associates Inc., Publishers, Sunderland, p 722

    Google Scholar 

  • Cerda X, Arnan X, Retana J (2013) Is competition a significant hallmark of ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) ecology? Myrmecol News 18:131–147

    Google Scholar 

  • Chen W, O’Sullivan A, Adams ES (2018) Intraspecific aggression and the colony structure of the invasive ant Myrmica rubra. Ecol Entomol 43:263–272

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Claessen D, Gilligan CA, Lutman PJ, Bosch FVD (2005) Which traits promote persistence of feral GM crops? Part 1: implications of environmental stochasticity. Oikos 110:20–29

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Cushman JH, Martinsen GD, Mazeroll AI (1988) Density-and size-dependent spacing of ant nests: evidence for intraspecific competition. Oecologia 77:522–525

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Del Vitto LA, Petenatti E, Nellar MM, Petenatti ME (1994) Las Áreas Naturales Protegidas de San Luis, Argentina. Multequina 3:141–156

    Google Scholar 

  • Dimarco RD, Farji-Brener AG, Premoli AC (2010) Dear enemy phenomenon in the leaf-cutting ant Acromyrmex lobicornis: behavioral and genetic evidence. Behav Ecol 21:304–310

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Eaton JW, Bateman D, Hauberg S, Wehbring R (2019) GNU Octave version 4.0. 0 manual: a high-level interactive language for numerical computations. 2015. http://www.gnu.org/software/octave/doc/interpreter(8, 13). Accessed 12 Sept 2015

  • Farji-Brener AG (2000) Leaf-cutting ant nests in temperate environments: mounds, mound damages and nest mortality rate in Acromyrmex lobicornis. Stud Neotrop Fauna Environm 35:131–138

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farji-Brener AG, Ruggiero A (1994) Leaf-cutting ants (Atta and Acromyrmex) inhabiting Argentina: patterns in species richness and geographical range sizes. J Biogeogr 21:391–399. https://doi.org/10.2307/2845757

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Farji-Brener AG, de Torres Curth MI, Casanovas P, Naim PN (2003) Consecuencias demográficas del sitio de nidificación en la hormiga cortadora de hojas Acromyrmex lobicornis: un enfoque utilizando modelos matriciales. Ecol Austral 13:183–194

    Google Scholar 

  • Fellers JH (1987) Interference and exploitation in a guild of woodland ants. Ecology 68:1466–1478

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fowler HG (1977) Some factors influencing colony spacing and survival in the grass-cutting ant Acromyrmex landolti fracticornis (Forel) (Formicidae: Attini) in Paraguay. Rev Biol Trop 25:89–99

    Google Scholar 

  • Fowler HG (1992) Patterns of colonization and incipient nest survival in Acromyrmex niger and Acromyrmex balzani (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Insect Soc 39:347–350

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fowler HG, Robinson S, Diehl J (1984) Effect of mature colony density on colonization and initial colony survivorship in Atta capiguara, a leaf-cutting ant. Biotropica 16:51–54

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Fowler HG, Pereira-da-Silva V, Forti LC, Saes NB (1986) Population dynamics of leaf-cutting ants: A brief review. In: Lofgren CS, Vander Meer RK (eds) S and leaf-cutting ants: biology and management (studies in insect biology). Westview Press, Boulde, pp 123–145

    Google Scholar 

  • Franzel C, Farji-Brener AG (2000) ¿Oportunistas o selectivas? Plasticidad en la dieta de la hormiga cortadora de hojas Acromyrmex lobicornis en el noroeste de la Patagonia. Ecol Austral 10:159–168

    Google Scholar 

  • Gordon DM, Kulig AW (1996) Founding, foraging, and fighting: colony size and the spatial distribution of harvester ant nests. Ecology 77:2393–2409

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hernández JV, López H, Jaffe K (2002) Nestmate recognition signals of the leaf-cutting ant Atta laevigata. J Insect Physiol 48:287–295

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hölldobler B, Wilson EO (1990) The ants. Harvard University Press, Cambridge

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Hölldobler B, Wilson EO (2011) The leafcutter ants: civilization by instinct. W. W. Norton and Company, Nueva York

  • Jofré LE, Medina AI, Farji-Brener AG, Moglia MM (2018) The effect of nest size and species identity on plant selection in Acromyrmex leaf-cutting ants. Sociobiology 65:456–462

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Jofré LE, de Torres Curth MI, Farji-Brener AG (2022) Unexpected costs of extended phenotypes: nest features determine the effect of fires on leaf cutter ant’s demography. Proc R Soc B 289(1969):20212333

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Keddy PA (1989) Competition. Chapman & Hall, London, p 202

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Levings SC, Traniello JFA (1981) Territoriality, nest dispersion and community structure in ants. Psyche 88:265–320

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nobua Behrmann BE (2014) Interacciones tróficas entre dos especies simpátricas de hormigas cortadoras y el ensamble de plantas en el Monte central (Doctoral dissertation, Universidad de Buenos Aires. Facultad de Ciencias Exactas y Naturales)

  • Parr CL, Gibb H (2010) Competition and the role of dominant ants. In: Lach L, Parr CL, Abbott KL (eds) Ant ecology. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 77–96

    Google Scholar 

  • Rockwood LL (1973) Distribution, density, and dispersion of two species of Atta (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in Guanacaste province, Costa Rica. J Anim Ecol 803–817

  • Ryti R, Case T (1986) Overdispersion of ant colonies: a test of hypotheses. Oecologia 69:446–453

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Savolainen R, Vepsäläinen K, Wuorenrinne H (1989) Ant assemblages in the taiga biome: testing the role of territorial wood ants. Oecologia 81:481–486

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Solida L, Scalisi M, Fanfani A, Mori A, Grasso DA (2010) Interspecific space partitioning during the foraging activity of two syntopic species of Messor harvester ants. J Biol Res 13:3

    Google Scholar 

  • Stubben CJ, Milligan B (2007) Estimating and analyzing demographic models using the popbio package in R. J. Statistical software 22, 11. https://CRAN.R-project.org/package=popbio. Accessed 12 Sept 2015

  • Tadey M, Farji-Brener AG (2007) Indirect effects of exotic grazers: livestock decreases the nutrient content of refuse dumps of leaf-cutting ants through vegetation impoverishment. J Appl Ecol 44(6):1209–1218

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Tuljapurkar SD, Horvitz C, Pascarella JB (2003) The many growth rates and elasticities of populations in random environments. Am Nat 162:489–502

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vasconcelos HL, Cherrett JM (1995) Changes in leaf-cutting ant populations (Formicidae: Attini) after the clearing of mature forest in Brazilian Amazonia. Stud Neotrop Fauna Environ 30:107–113

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vieira-Neto EH, Vasconcelos H, Bruna EM (2016) Roads increase population growth rates of a native leaf-cutter ant in Neotropical savannahs. J Appl Ecol 53:983–992

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank Kety Huberman for constructive criticism of an earlier version of the paper. Two anonymous reviewers and the editor made several constructive comments that helped to improve the first version of this manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

AGFB conceived the idea of the study, AGFB. and LJ designed methodology; LJ collected the data; LJ, MDTC and VZ analyzed the data; AGFB led the writing of the manuscript. All authors contributed critically to the drafts and gave final approval for publication.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to A. G. Farji-Brener.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

Not applicable.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Jofre, L., de Torres Curth, M., Zimmerman, V. et al. Effect of intraspecific competition on the demography of leaf-cutting ants: a matrix model approach. Insect. Soc. 69, 261–269 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-022-00866-4

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00040-022-00866-4

Keywords

  • Acromyrmex lobicornis
  • Aggressive behaviors
  • Ant nests
  • Foraging
  • Stochastic matrix model