Biological Invasions

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 599–612 | Cite as

Population decline but increased distribution of an invasive ant genotype on a Pacific atoll

  • M. A. M. Gruber
  • A. R. Burne
  • K. L. Abbott
  • R. J. Pierce
  • P. J. Lester
Original Paper


Populations of invasive species are often studied when their effects are perceived as a problem. Yet observing the dynamics of populations over longer time periods can highlight changes in effects on invaded communities, and assist with management decisions. In this study we revisit an invasion of the yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) in the Tokelau archipelago to determine if the distribution and abundance of the ant has changed ~7 years after surveys completed in 2004. We were particularly interested in whether populations of a previously identified invasive haplotype (D) had increased in distribution and abundance, as this haplotype was implicated in negative effects on resident ant communities. Indeed, haplotype D populations have become more widespread since the initial survey, more likely owing to new introductions or movement by humans, rather than intrinsic characteristics of the haplotype. We also found that despite no significant change in the abundance of A. gracilipes overall, haplotype D populations have declined in abundance. Residents of the Tokelau atolls no longer consider the ant to be a pest as they did 7 years ago, when populations of this ant interfered with their food production and many other aspects of daily life. We observed no significant differences between A. gracilipes invaded and uninvaded communities, which suggests that the ant is at a level of abundance below which significant negative ecological effects may occur. Population declines of invasive species are not infrequent, and understanding these population dynamics, particularly the underlying mechanisms promoting population declines or stabilisation, should be a high priority for invasion ecology.


Haplotype Abundance Population dynamics Pacific Anoplolepis gracilipes 



We are grateful to the Faipule, Pulenuku and Taupulega of Tokelau for permitting this study and providing logistic support. We also appreciate James Atherton’s assistance with mapping GPS points. Many thanks also to Andy Suarez, the editor, and two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and helpful suggestions. This work was funded and supported by the VUW Research Trust, Conservation International and the Tokelau Government. M. Gruber was supported by a New Zealand Tertiary Education Commission TAD Scholarship, and VUW Hunter Scholarship.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. A. M. Gruber
    • 1
  • A. R. Burne
    • 1
  • K. L. Abbott
    • 3
  • R. J. Pierce
    • 2
  • P. J. Lester
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Eco Oceania Pty LtdSpeewahAustralia
  3. 3.Monash UniversityMelbourneAustralia

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