, Volume 155, Issue 2, pp 385–395 | Cite as

Rainfall facilitates the spread, and time alters the impact, of the invasive Argentine ant

  • Nicole E. HellerEmail author
  • Nathan J. Sanders
  • Jessica Wade Shors
  • Deborah M. Gordon
Conservation Ecology - Original Paper


Climate change may exacerbate invasions by making conditions more favorable to introduced species relative to native species. Here we used data obtained during a long-term biannual survey of the distribution of ant species in a 481-ha preserve in northern California to assess the influence of interannual variation in rainfall on the spread of invasive Argentine ants, Linepithema humile, and the displacement of native ant species. Since the survey began in 1993, Argentine ants have expanded their range into 74 new hectares. Many invaded hectares were later abandoned, so the range of Argentine ants increased in some years and decreased in others. Rainfall predicted both range expansion and interannual changes in the distribution of Argentine ants: high rainfall, particularly in summer months, promoted their spread in the summer. This suggests that an increase in rainfall will promote a wider distribution of Argentine ants and increase their spread into new areas in California. Surprisingly, the distribution of two native ant species also increased following high rainfall, but only in areas of the preserve that were invaded by L. humile. Rainfall did not have a negative impact on total native ant species richness in invaded areas. Instead, native ant species richness in invaded areas increased significantly over the 13 years of observation. This suggests that the impact of Argentine ants on naïve ant communities may be most severe early in the invasion process.


El Niño Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve Linepithema humile Long-term Seasonality 



We wish to thank the many Stanford undergraduates and other students who helped with the ant survey at JRBP, especially Patrick Hsieh, Tomas Matza, and Eli Sarnat who provided very valuable assistance. Many thanks to Phil Ward for ant identification and for curating the JRBP ant collection. Peter Vitousek, Phil Lester, and one anonymous reviewer provided constructive comments on drafts of this manuscript. Raquel Prado provided valuable statistical advice. Support for this study came from a NSF pre-doctoral fellowship to NEH, the National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service grant no. 2001-35302-09981 to DMG, and Mellon grants to JRBP.

Supplementary material


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole E. Heller
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  • Nathan J. Sanders
    • 2
  • Jessica Wade Shors
    • 1
  • Deborah M. Gordon
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of TennesseeKnoxvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyFranklin and Marshall CollegeLancasterUSA

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