The spread of the Argentine ant: environmental determinants and impacts on native ant communities

03 August 2010

The increasing numbers of invasive species have stimulated the study of the underlying causes promoting the establishment and spread of exotic species. We tracked the spread of the highly invasive Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) along an environmental and habitat gradient on the northeastern Iberian Peninsula to determine the role of climatic, habitat and biotic variables on the rate of spread, and examine impact on native ant communities. We found the species well-established within natural environments. The mean annual rate of spread of the invasion (7.94 ± 2.99 m/year) was relatively low compared to other studies, suggesting that resistance posed by native ants in natural environments with no or low human disturbance might delay (although not prevent) the spread of the invasion irrespectively of the land-use type. Factors related to the distance to urban areas and characteristics of native and introduced populations explained the rate of spread of the invasion, while habitat-related variables determined the distribution of native ants and the impact of the Argentine ant on them. Native ant communities became more homogeneous following the invasion due to the decline of species richness and abundance. Only few species (Plagiolepis pygmaea and Temnothorax spp.) were able to cope with the spread of the invasion, and were possibly favored by the local extinction of other ant species. Taken together, our results indicate that land uses per se do not directly affect the spread of L. humile, but influence its invasive success by molding the configuration of native ant communities and the abiotic suitability of the site.