Cooperative colony founding alters the outcome of interspecific competition between Amazonian plant-ants


In myrmecophytes, plants with structures in which ants establish colonies, there is strong competition among ant queens for access to host plants. However, our knowledge of how queens of different partner species interact when attempting to colonize plants remains limited. The Amazonian myrmecophyte Maieta guianensis is colonized by queens of two ant species: Crematogaster laevis and Pheidole minutula. We elucidated the competitive ranking of queens of these species and tested the hypothesis that cooperative colony founding (pleometrosis) by P. minutula queens could alter this ranking. We found that C. laevis queens are behaviorally dominant to P. minutula when individual queens encounter each other. Despite being inferior in combat, however, P. minutula queens successfully colonized seedlings at similar rates whether they were placed alone or in concert with a C. laevis queen. This may have occurred because the smaller P. minutula queens frequently entered domatia before the more robust C. laevis queens. Although C. laevis queens can evict P. minutula queens that had previously colonized domatia, this was an infrequent phenomenon-perhaps because while not fatal, conflicts often resulted in serious injury. Furthermore, by colonizing the same plant cooperative P. minutula queens dramatically reduce the probability that C. laevis colonizes host-plants without reducing their own per capita rates of colonization success. To our knowledge, this is a novel benefit of pleometrosis, whose primary advantages have primarily been thought to occur after the critical stage of colony establishment. Given the decreased likelihood of colonization when faced with multiple P. minutula, it may be that C. laevis' persistence at the landscape level is enhanced by such factors as priority effects, superior dispersal ability, or niche partitioning.

Insectes Sociaux, (56), 4, pp. 341–345