Discovery and defense define the social foraging strategy of Neotropical arboreal ants

Abstract

Interspecific trade-offs in foraging strategies can facilitate species coexistence in diverse communities with overlapping resource use, especially in taxa with complex social-foraging strategies. The discovery-dominance trade-off hypothesis is often invoked to help explain coexistence of ant species that use overlapping food resources, wherein colonies of some species are better at collectively discovering new food, while others have superior social fighting abilities to subsequently assert dominance over a resource. This hypothesis has yet to be tested in diverse arboreal ant communities. We assessed the competitive outcomes of arboreal ants at new food resources and further asked if the number of ants present and their body size influenced the observed outcomes. We did not find support for a discovery-dominance trade-off. Instead, we identified a discovery-defense strategy, wherein the first species to collectively forage at a new food resource usually defended it successfully from other species. This suggests that the discovery phase is the most important for determining the outcome of competition over food in arboreal ants. This importance was further supported by the insight that the number of ants present largely determined the access of species to food resources, not individual body size. Broadly, our results suggest that although arboreal ants rely on similar food resources, coexistence may be mediated in part by the prevalence of the discovery-defense strategy: most species have the capacity to be the first to discover newly available food resources within the complex canopy, and discovery is coupled with the ability to defend a new food resource long enough to benefit from it.

Significance statement

The discovery-dominance hypothesis is one of the most studied trade-offs in research on foraging interactions and coexistence in ant communities. Since most ant species have a relatively similar diet, species may differ in their ability to either be the first to discover food, or subsequently dominate food via better fighting abilities. However, instead of the discovery-dominance trade-off, we identified support for a widespread discovery-defense strategy in arboreal ant communities. In this discovery-defense strategy, the first species to collectively forage at a new resource is also typically the one to keep control of it. Moreover, we also found that the most important trait for arboreal ants in determining their success at a food resource was the number of ants present, which emphasizes the importance of the discovery phase in interspecific competitive outcomes.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2

References

  1. Adams ES (1990) Boundary disputes in the territorial ant Azteca trigona: effects of asymmetries in colony size. Anim Behav 39:321–328

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Adams ES, Mesterton-Gibbons M (2003) Lanchester’s attrition models and fights among social animals. Behav Ecol 14:719–723

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Adler FR, LeBrun EG, Feener DH Jr (2007) Maintaining diversity in an ant community: modeling, extending, and testing the dominance-discovery trade-off. Am Nat 169:323–333

    PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Amarasekare P (2003) Competitive coexistence in spatially structured environments: a synthesis. Ecol Lett 6:1109–1122

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Andersen AN (1992) Regulation of “momentary” diversity by dominant species in exceptionally rich ant communities of the Australian seasonal tropics. Am Nat 140:401–420

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Andersen AN (2008) Not enough niches: non-equilibrial processes promoting species coexistence in diverse ant communities. Austral Ecol 33:211–220

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Arauco-Aliaga RP (2013) Diversity and species interactions in ant communities of Amazonian rainforests in southeast Peru. University of Utah, Utah UMI 3565591

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bartón K (2018) MuMIn: Multi-Model Inference. version 1.40.4

  9. Beckers R, Goss S, Deneubourg JL, Pasteels JM (1989) Colony size, communication, and ant foraging strategy. Psyche 96:239–256

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Bernstein RA (1979) Relations between species diversity and diet in communities of ants. Insect Soc 26:313–321

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Bestelmeyer BT (2000) The trade-off between thermal tolerance and behavioural dominance in a subtropical south American ant community. J Anim Ecol 69:998–1009

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Blüthgen N, Gebauer G, Fiedler K (2003) Disentangling a rainforest food web using stable isotopes: dietary diversity in a species-rich ant community. Oecologia 137:426–435

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Blüthgen N, Verhaagh M, Goitía W, Jaffé K, Morawetz W, Barthlott W (2000) How plants shape the ant community in the Amazonian rainforest canopy: the key role of extrafloral nectaries and homopteran honeydew. Oecologia 125(2):229–240

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. Buschinger A, Maschwitz U (1984) Defensive behavior and defensive mechanisms in ants. In: Hermann HR (ed) Defensive mechanisms in social insects. Praeger Publisher, New York, pp 95–150

    Google Scholar 

  15. Camarota F, Powell S, Vasconcelos HL, Priest G, Marquis RJ (2015) Extrafloral nectaries have a limited effect on the structure of arboreal ant communities in a Neotropical savanna. Ecology 96:231–240

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. Camarota F, Powell S, Melo AS, Priest G, Marquis B, Vasconcelos HL (2016) Co-occurrence patterns in a diverse arboreal ant community are explained more by competition than habitat requirements. Ecol Evol 6:1–12

  17. Cardoso E, Moreno MIC, Bruna EM, Vasconcelos HL (2009) Mudanças fitofisionômicas no cerrado: 18 anos de sucessão ecológica na estação ecológica do panga, Uberlândia-MG. Caminhos de Geografia 32:254–268

  18. Carroll CR, Janzen DH (1973) Ecology of foraging by ants. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 4:231–257

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Cerdá X, Retana J, Cros S (1997) Thermal disruption of transitive hierarchies in Mediterranean ant communities. J Anim Ecol 66:363–374

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

  21. Chase JM, Leibold MA (2003) Ecological niches: linking classical and contemporary approaches. University of Chicago Press, Chicago

    Google Scholar 

  22. Chesson P (2000) Mechanisms of maintenance of species diversity. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 31:343–366

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Connell JH (1983) On the prevalence and relative importance of interspecific competition: evidence from field experiments. Am Nat 122:661–696

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Cook SC, Davidson DW (2006) Nutritional and functional biology of exudate-feeding ants. Entomol Exp Appl 118:1–10

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Davidson DW (1997) The role of resource imbalances in the evolutionary ecology of tropical arboreal ants. Biol J Linn Soc 61:153–181

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Davidson DW (1998) Resource discovery versus resource domination in ants: a functional mechanism for breaking the trade-off. Ecol Entomol 23:484–490

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Davidson DW, Cook SC, Snelling RR, Chua TH (2003) Explaining the abundance of ants in lowland tropical rainforest canopies. Science 300:969–972

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  28. Davidson DW, Cook SC, Snelling RR (2004) Liquid-feeding performances of ants (Formicidae): ecological and evolutionary implications. Oecologia 139:255–266

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. Debout G, Schatz B, Elias M, McKey D (2007) Polydomy in ants: what we know, what we think we know, and what remains to be done. Biol J Linn Soc 90:319–348

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Delabie JHC (1994) Cooperative shield phragmosis by minor workers of Zacryptocerus pusillus (Hymenoptera; Formicidae; Cephalotini). Etologia 4:99–102

    Google Scholar 

  31. Dornhaus A, Powell S (2010) Foraging and defence strategies. In: Lach L, Parr K, Abbot C (eds) Ant ecology. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 115–136

    Google Scholar 

  32. Dornhaus A, Powell S, Bengston S (2012) Group size and its effects on collective organization. Ann Rev Entomol 57:123–141

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  33. Elton C (1946) Competition and the structure of ecological communities. J Anim Ecol 15:54–68

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Feener DH Jr, Orr MR, Wackford KM, Longo JM, Benson WW, Gilbert LE (2008) Geographic variation in resource dominance-discovery in Brazilian ant communities. Ecology 89:1824–1836

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Franks NR, Partridge LW (1993) Lanchester battles and the evolution of combat in ants. Anim Behav 45:197–199

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Fukami T (2015) Historical contingency in community assembly: integrating niches, species pools, and priority effects. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 46:1–23

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. Gibb H (2005) The effect of a dominant ant, Iridomyrmex purpureus, on resource use by ant assemblages depends on microhabitat and resource type. Austral Ecol 30:856–867

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Gibb H, Parr CL (2010) How does habitat complexity affect ant foraging success? A test using functional measures on three continents. Oecologia 164:1061–1073

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  40. Gordon DM (2017) Local regulation of trail networks of the arboreal turtle ant, Cephalotes goniodontus. Am Nat 190:E000. https://doi.org/10.1086/693418.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  41. Grover CD, Kay AD, Monson JA, Marsh TC, Holway DA (2007) Linking nutrition and behavioural dominance: carbohydrate scarcity limits aggression and activity in Argentine ants. Proc R Soc Lond B Biol Sci 274:2951–2957

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Hölldobler B, Lumsden CJ (1980) Territorial strategies in ants. Science 210:732–739

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

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

    Google Scholar 

  44. Holway DA (1999) Competitive mechanisms underlying the displacement of native ants by the invasive Argentine ant. Ecology 80:238–251

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Houadria M, Salas Lopez A, Orivel J et al (2015) Dietary and temporal niche differentiation in tropical ants—can they explain local ant coexistence? Biotropica 47:208–217

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. Hurlbert AH, Ballantyne F, Powell S (2008) Shaking a leg and hot to trot: the effects of body size and temperature on running speed in ants. Ecol Entomol 33:144–154

    Article  Google Scholar 

  47. Hutchinson GE (1959) Homage to Santa Rosalia or why are there so many kinds of animals? Am Nat 93:145–159

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Johnson LK, Hubbell SP, Feener DH (1987) Defense of food supply by eusocial colonies. Am Zool 27:347–358

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Kaspari M, Weiser MD (1999) The size–grain hypothesis and interspecific scaling in ants. Funct Ecol 13:530–538

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. Kay A (2002) Applying optimal foraging theory to assess nutrient availability ratios for ants. Ecology 83:1935–1944

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Kneitel JM, Chase JM (2004) Trade-offs in community ecology: linking spatial scales and species coexistence. Ecol Lett 7:69–80

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Koch EBA, Camarota F, Vasconcelos HL (2016) Plant ontogeny as a conditionality factor in the protective effects of ants on a neotropical tree. Biotropica 48:198–205

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Lanan M (2014) Spatiotemporal resource distribution and foraging strategies of ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecol news 20:53–70

  54. Lanan MC, Dornhaus A, Bronstein JL (2011) The function of polydomy: the ant Crematogaster torosa preferentially forms new nests near food sources and fortifies outstations. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 65:959–968

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Lebrun EG (2005) Who is the top dog in ant communities? Resources, parasitoids, and multiple competitive hierarchies. Oecologia 142:643–652

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  56. Lebrun EG, Feener DH (2007) When trade-offs interact: balance of terror enforces dominance discovery trade-off in a local ant assemblage. J Anim Ecol 76:58–64

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  57. Lessard J-P, Dunn RR, Sanders NJ (2009) Temperature-mediated coexistence in temperate forest ant communities. Insect Soc 56:149–156

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Longino JT, Coddington J, Colwell RK (2002) The ant fauna of a tropical rainforest: estimating species richness three different ways. Ecology 83:689–702

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. MacArthur RH (1972) Geographical ecology: patterns in the distribution of species. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  60. McGlynn TP (2000) Do Lanchester’s laws of combat describe competition in ants? Behav Ecol 11:686–690

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Mertl AL, Sorenson MD, Traniello JFA (2010) Community-level interactions and functional ecology of major workers in the hyperdiverse ground-foraging Pheidole (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) of Amazonian Ecuador. Insect Soc 57(4):441–452

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Oster GF, Wilson EO (1978) Caste and ecology in the social insects. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  63. Palmer TM (2004) Wars of attrition: colony size determines competitive outcomes in a guild of African acacia ants. Anim Behav 68:993–1004

    Article  Google Scholar 

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

    Google Scholar 

  65. Parr CL, Gibb H (2012) The discovery–dominance trade-off is the exception, rather than the rule. J Anim Ecol 81:233–241

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. Pearce Duvet J, Feener DH (2010) Resource discovery in ant communities: do food type and quantity matter? Ecol Entomol 35:549–556

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. Pearce Duvet JM, Moyano M, Adler FR, Feener DH Jr (2011) Fast food in ant communities: how competing species find resources. Oecologia 167:229–240

  68. Powell S (2008) Ecological specialization and the evolution of a specialized caste in Cephalotes ants. Funct Ecol 22:902–911

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Powell S (2009) How ecology shapes caste evolution: linking resource use, morphology, performance and fitness in a superorganism. J Evol Biol 22:1004–1013

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  70. Powell S, Costa AN, Lopes CT, Vasconcelos HL (2011) Canopy connectivity and the availability of diverse nesting resources affect species coexistence in arboreal ants. J Anim Ecol 80:352–360

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  71. R Core Team (2017) R: a language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna URL https://www.R-project.org/

    Google Scholar 

  72. Sarty M, Abbott KL, Lester PJ (2006) Habitat complexity facilitates coexistence in a tropical ant community. Oecologia 149:465–473

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  73. Savolainen R, Vepsäläinen K (1988) A competition hierarchy among boreal ants: impact on resource partitioning and community structure. Oikos 51:135–155

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Schoener TW (1974) Resource partitioning in ecological communities. Science 185:27–39

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  75. Schoener TW (1983) Field experiments on interspecific competition. Am Nat 122:240–285

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Stearns SC (1989) Trade-offs in life-history evolution. Funct Ecol 3:259–268

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Stuble KL, Rodriguez-Cabal MA, McCormick GL et al (2013) Tradeoffs, competition, and coexistence in eastern deciduous forest ant communities. Oecologia 171:981–992

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  78. Stuble KL, Jurić I, Cerdá X, Sanders NJ (2017) Dominance hierarchies are a dominant paradigm in ant ecology (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), but should they be? And what is a dominance hierarchy anyways? Myrmecol News 24:71–81

  79. Tilman D (1982) Resource competition and community structure. Princeton University Press, Princeton

    Google Scholar 

  80. Tilman D (2000) Causes, consequences and ethics of biodiversity. Nature 405:208–211

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  81. Traniello JF (1989) Foraging strategies of ants. Annu Rev Entomol 34:191–210

    Article  Google Scholar 

  82. Vasconcelos HL, Maravalhas JB, Feitosa RM, Pacheco R, Neves KC, Andersen AN (2018) Neotropical savanna ants show a reversed latitudinal gradient of species richness, with climatic drivers reflecting the forest origin of the fauna. J Biogeogr 16:248–258

    Article  Google Scholar 

  83. Vepsäläinen K, Pisarski B (1982) Assembly of island ant communities. Societas Scientiarum Fennica, Societas pro Fauna et Flora Fennica and Societas Biologica Fennica Vanamo 19:327–335

  84. Wiescher PT, Pearce Duvet J, Feener DH (2011) Environmental context alters ecological trade-offs controlling ant coexistence in a spatially heterogeneous region. Ecol Entomol 36:549–559

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. Wilkinson EB, Feener DH (2007) Habitat complexity modifies ant–parasitoid interactions: implications for community dynamics and the role of disturbance. Oecologia 152:151–161

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  86. Wills BD, Powell S, Rivera MD, Suarez AV (2018) Correlates and consequences of worker polymorphism in ants. Annu Rev Entomol 63:575–598

    Article  PubMed  CAS  Google Scholar 

  87. Wilson EO (1976) Behavioral discretization and the number of castes in an ant species. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 1:141–154

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank M. Gonzaga, R. Feitosa, R. Pacheco, S. Sendoya, and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on prior versions of this manuscript.

Funding

This study was funded by research grants from the Brazilian Council of Research and Scientific Development, the Brazilian Ministry for Education (MEC/CAPES), and the National Science Foundation (Awards DEB 0842144, and DEB 1442256).

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Flávio Camarota.

Additional information

Communicated by W. Hughes

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Camarota, F., Vasconcelos, H.L., Koch, E.B.A. et al. Discovery and defense define the social foraging strategy of Neotropical arboreal ants. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 72, 110 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00265-018-2519-1

Download citation

Keywords

  • Canopy
  • Competition
  • Recruitment
  • Resource exploitation
  • Species coexistence