, Volume 166, Issue 4, pp 1111–1119 | Cite as

Crab regulation of cross-ecosystem resource transfer by marine foraging fire ants

  • Erica A. GarciaEmail author
  • Mark D. Bertness
  • Juan Alberti
  • Brian R. Silliman
Community ecology - Original Paper


Permeability of boundaries in biological systems is regulated by biotic and/or abiotic factors. Despite this knowledge, the role of biotic factors in regulating resource transfer across ecosystem boundaries has received little study. Additionally, little is known about how cross-ecosystem resource transfer affects source populations. We used experiments, observations and stable isotopes, to evaluate: (1) the proportion of intertidal-foraging black fire ant (Solenopsis richteri) diet derived from marine sources, (2) how black fire ant cross-ecosystem resource transfer is altered by the dominant bioengineer in the intertidal, a burrowing crab (Neohelice granulata), (3) the top-down impact of these terrestrial ants on a marine resource, and (4) the effect of marine resources on recipient black fire ants. We found that more than 85% of the black fire ant diet is derived from marine sources, the number of intertidal foraging ants doubles in the absence of crab burrows, and that ants cause a 50% reduction in intertidal polychaetes. Also, ant mound density is three times greater adjacent to marine systems. This study reveals that cross-ecosystem foraging terrestrial ants can clearly have strong impacts on marine resources. Furthermore, ecosystem engineers that modify and occupy habitat in these ecosystem boundaries can strongly regulate the degree of cross-ecosystem resource transfer and resultant top down impacts.


Ecosystem engineer Land–water interface Cross-ecosystem foraging Boundary permeability Resource transfer 



We thank Andrew Altieri, Fernanda Álvarez, Pedro Daleo, Oscar Iribarne, John Griffin, Craig Layman, Tim Jardine, Andy Suarez, Danielle Warfe and three anonymous reviewers. This work was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) DBI-0610312 (to E.A. Garcia), the Mellon Foundation (to M.D. Bertness) and the Ecology program at NSF (to M.D. Bertness and B.R. Silliman).

Supplementary material

442_2011_1952_MOESM1_ESM.doc (96 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 95 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erica A. Garcia
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mark D. Bertness
    • 2
  • Juan Alberti
    • 3
    • 4
  • Brian R. Silliman
    • 5
  1. 1.Tropical Rivers and Coastal Knowledge, Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Red 1Charles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  3. 3.Departamento de Biología (FCEyN)Universidad Nacional de Mar del PlataMar del PlataArgentina
  4. 4.Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET)Ciudad de Buenos AiresArgentina
  5. 5.Department of ZoologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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