Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ant invaders eat the natives, then move down the food chain

18.12.2007
The Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, is one of the most successful invasive species in the world, having colonized parts of five continents in addition to its native range in South America. A new study sheds light on the secrets of its success.

The findings, from researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of California at San Diego, appear this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Argentine ant is tiny, aggressive and adaptable, traits that have helped it in its transit around the world. Once seen only in South America, the ant is now found in parts of Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South Africa. It most likely made its way to these destinations on ships carrying soil or agricultural products.

Under the right conditions, the Argentine ant marches through a new territory, wiping out – by eating and out-competing – most of the native ants and many other insects. In the process it radically alters the ecology of its new home.

The Argentine ant thrives in a warm climate with abundant water, and is often found on agricultural lands or near cities. But it also invades natural areas, said U. of I. entomology professor Andrew Suarez, principal investigator on the new study. The ant is highly social, and sometimes forms immense “super-colonies” made up of millions workers spread over vast territories. In previous research, Suarez identified a super-colony in California that stretched from San Diego to San Francisco.

In the new study, Suarez and colleagues followed an invasion wave of Argentine ants across Rice Canyon, in southern California.

The researchers tracked the invasion for eight years, collecting data on conditions before and during the invasion.

“Rather than comparing an invaded to a non-invaded community, which may be different for all sorts of other reasons, we try to follow an invasion front in real time to document what this invader is doing,” Suarez said.

The researchers used a technique called stable isotope analysis to determine what the ants were eating. By calculating the ratio of heavy to light isotopes (molecular weights) of nitrogen in all members of an ecological community, scientists can determine if a particular organism is primarily a carnivore or herbivore.

What the researchers found surprised them. In the early stages of invasion the Argentine ants behaved much as they did in their own home ranges: They were carnivores, aggressively attacking and probably eating most of the other ants they encountered. But as they displaced the native species, they began foraging lower on the food chain.

Field studies showed that the ants were taking over an important food source: the honeydew excretions of aphids and scale insects that feed on plants.

“These are really important, often fixed resources, from which ants can get a huge amount of their carbohydrate fuel, the energy to fuel their worker force,” Suarez said. “As the native ants are displaced, the Argentine ants start monopolizing these resources.”

The impact on the natives was disastrous. Over a period of eight years, the number of native ant species in the study area went from 23 to two.

The findings point to a need for more long-term studies of native and non-native species, Suarez said, rather than the more common, short-term studies, which see only a fragment of the bigger puzzle.

“The way the invasive species are interacting with the environment might actually be changing over time,” Suarez said.

Only by following an invasion over time can researchers begin to understand the dynamics that allow alien species to win out over the natives, he said.

Editor’s note: To reach Andrew Suarez, call 217-244-6631; e-mail: suarez2@uiuc.edu.

Diana Yates | University of Illinois
Further information:
http://www.uiuc.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Smart Data Transformation – Surfing the Big Wave
02.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Informationstechnik FIT

nachricht Climate change could outpace EPA Lake Champlain protections
18.11.2016 | University of Vermont

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>