Session: Vital Connections in Ecology: Breakthroughs in Understanding Species Interactions 6
Interactions between mutualistic seed-dispersing ants affect plant community composition
Wednesday, August 4, 2021
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Kirsten M. Prior, Department of Biological Sciences, Binghamton University (SUNY), Binghamton, NY, Shannon A. Meadley Dunphy, Department of Biology, McGill University and Megan E. Frederickson, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Kirsten M. Prior
Department of Biological Sciences, Binghamton University (SUNY) Binghamton, NY, USA
Background/Question/Methods In generalized mutualisms, species vary in the quality of services they provide to their partners directly via traits that affect partner fitness and indirectly via traits that influence interactions among mutualist species that play similar functional roles. Myrmecochory, or seed dispersal by ants, is a generalized mutualism with ant species varying in the quality of dispersal services they provide to their plant partners. Variation in ant species identity can directly impact seed dispersal patterns and plant community composition; however, we know less about how interactions among seed-dispersing ant species indirectly influence plant partners. The invasive ant, Myrmica rubra, is a high-quality seed-disperser in its native range that interacts with myrmecochores (ant-dispersed plants) and the high-quality seed disperser Aphaenogaster sp. in its invaded range. We use this system to examine how interactions between two functionally similar mutualist ant species influence the recruitment and community composition of ant-dispersed plants. We performed a lab behavioral experiment and a field mesocosm experiment to compare discovery and dominance behaviors, and seed dispersal and seedling recruitment of four myrmecochore species among intraspecific interaction treatments of each ant species and an interspecific interaction treatment. Results/Conclusions We found that M. rubra was better at discovering and dispersing seeds, but that Aphaenogaster sp. was dominantly aggressive over M. rubra. Interspecific interactions dampened seed dispersal relative to dispersal by the better disperser. Despite this dampening, we found no effect of interspecific interaction on seedling recruitment. However, community composition of seedlings in the interspecific interaction treatment was more similar to composition in the aggressively dominant ant (Aphaenogaster sp.) treatment than in the better discoverer ant (M. rubra) treatment. We show that interspecific interaction between mutualist species in the same functional guild affects the outcome of mutualistic interactions with partner species. Despite the native ant dispersing fewer seeds, its dominance over the subordinate (invasive) ant has the potential to provide biotic resistance against the effects of M. rubra on plant communities when these species co-exist.