The influence of semiochemicals on the co-occurrence patterns of a global invader and native species
The success of invasive species in their introduced range is often influenced by interactions with resident species communities. Chemical communication is one the factors which contributes to a variety of aspects of a species life cycle, ranging from mating, to food localization and interactions with members of the same and other species. In my thesis, I investigate the effects of venoms and semiochemicals on interactions between the invasive Argentine ant (Linepethima humile) with other resident ant species and demonstrate how pheromones can potentially be utilized as an area wide control mechanism of this species, by disrupting their foraging success. I studied the effects of venom composition, their toxicity and utilization on the outcome of aggressive interactions between the Argentine ant and the four Monomorium species in New Zealand occurring. The toxicity of the venom of the two species co-occurring with Argentine ants was significantly higher than the toxicity of the species which do not. However, no correlation between venom toxicity and Monomorium survival was found. For M. antipodum a significant relationship between venom utilization and its mortality was found, indicating that the way venom is used might be an important aspect of these interactions. Physical Aggression between Monomorium and Argentine ants also had strong effects on Monomorium worker mortality, which provided evidence that a variety of factors and strategies contribute to the ability of interacting organisms to withstand the pressure of a dominant invader at high abundance. I conducted bioassays with food sources and synthetic trail pheromones, providing a proof of concept on disrupting the foraging ability of Argentine ants. Other resident species benefited from the reduced success of Argentine ants, but to a varying degree. Behavioural variations between the resident species provided an explanation for observed differences in foraging success and how much each of these individual competitors was able to increase their foraging. The mechanism for the observed increase in resource acquisition of resident species appeared to be a decrease in aggressive behaviour displayed by Argentine ants. I expanded the usage of the synthetic pheromone to a commercial vineyard, were Argentine ants can have negative effects on crop development by dispersing and tending to homopteran pest species. Argentine ants’ access to the crop canopy could be significantly reduced by placing pheromone dispensers at the base of the vine plant, while dispensers in the plant canopy had little effect on Argentine ant numbers. Doubling the amount of pheromone did not result in an additional reduction of ant activity. Lastly incorporating the knowledge gained in the previous chapter, I extended the application of the pheromone to a large field trial over a three month period. Argentine ant activity and foraging success was significantly supressed compared to untreated control plots, providing evidence that this form of large scale application might be a possible way to control large invasive ant populations by disrupting their trail following and foraging behaviour for a prolonged period of time. While initial calculations have suggested that the treatment is currently not feasible (13.3 US$/mg/ha), I found a significant reduction in body fat in workers collected from treated plots compared with untreated plots, suggesting adverse effects on nest fitness. My findings provide new insights into chemical communication between invasive and resident species, support existing dominance hierarchy models in ant populations, and help to establish a target specific potential management technique of wide-spread invasive ant species.