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Infestation by pollination-disrupting alien ants varies temporally and spatially and is worsened by alien plant invasion

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Plant-pollinator mutualisms may be disrupted by alien ants. Such threats are likely to vary spatio-temporally and with other biological invasions, but these aspects are rarely studied. We examined a threatened island endemic scrambler (Roussea simplex, Rousseaceae) about a decade after its pollination by an endemic reptile was found to be disrupted by an invasive alien ant and we investigated whether progressive invasion by plants has an influence on alien ant distribution. We quantified ant-infestations of the scrambler’s flowers and the vertical distribution of alien ants in the habitats through baiting experiment over 2 years and characterised the height of plants within habitat patches that face contrasting levels of alien plant invasion. Two alien and one native ant species were found visiting the flowers, namely Technomyrmex albipes, Anoplolepis gracilipes and Plagiolepis madecassa respectively. Few flowers (6.1%) had alien ants and ant-infested flowers occurred mostly nearer the ground. Mean alien ant abundance varied annually for A. gracilipes but not for T. albipes which however is much rarer than a decade previously. Alien ant-occupied baits showed higher probability of occurring predominantly nearer the ground. Roussea plants were much shorter where alien plant invasion is high, compared to where habitats are well-preserved. The severity of alien ant-infestation that leads to mutualism-disruption varies spatially and at different time scales. As alien plant invasion progresses, the resulting higher native plants’ mortality causes Roussea to lose its supporting host plants and collapse closer to the ground where it faces greater infestation of the alien ants that are documented to disrupt its pollination. Incorporating spatio-temporal variation of threats and unravelling possible interactions between sympatric invasive alien species should be important considerations for conservation managers.

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The National Parks and Conservation Services and the Forestry Services of the Ministry of Agro-Industry and Food Security granted permission to carry out surveys in the Black River Gorges National Park and Nature Reserve under their aegis. We acknowledge help from Marie Anaїs Allysson Karghoo, Bidianand Mangar (Rajoo), Ravi Luckhun, Satyaprakash and Parbhowtee Bissessur in the field. We also thank Gabriella Krivek for her assistance during field work and with some data analyses and Raphaël D. Reinegger for his advice with some data analyses as well. We thank the three anonymous reviewers for their input that improved the manuscript and Naveen Parthiban for his editorial work.


This work was supported by the Mauritius Research Council under the Postgraduate Award [MRC/PGA No. 8].

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Correspondence to Prishnee Bissessur.

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Bissessur, P., Baider, C. & Florens, F.B.V. Infestation by pollination-disrupting alien ants varies temporally and spatially and is worsened by alien plant invasion. Biol Invasions 22, 2573–2585 (2020).

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  • Conservation
  • Invasive ants
  • Invasive plants
  • Mauritius
  • Mutualism disruption
  • Oceanic island