Impact of a mutualism between an invasive ant and honeydew-producing insects on a functionally important tree on a tropical island
Mutualisms between invasive ants and honeydew-producing Hemiptera have the potential to result in unusually high population levels of both partners, with subsequent major changes to ecosystem composition and dynamics. We assessed the relationship between the invasive ant, Pheidole megacephala, and its hemipteran mutualists, Dysmicoccus sp. and Pulvinaria urbicola, on Cousine Island, Seychelles. We also assessed the impacts of the mutualism on the condition of the hemipteran host plant, Pisonia grandis, a native and functionally important tree species. There was a strong positive relationship between Ph. megacephala activity and hemipteran abundance, and the exclusion of ants from Pi. grandis resulted in a significant decline in Pu. urbicola abundance. High abundance of the mutualists was strongly associated with damage to the Pi. grandis forest. This indicates that the mutualism is contributing to the massive increase in the population levels of the mutualist species, and is intensifying their impacts on the island. The widespread trophobiosis and its associated high densities of mutualists pose serious threats to the ecosystem, highlighting the need to control the ant and associated hemipteran populations. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.