The invasive ant Pheidole megacephala on an oceanic island : impact, control and community-level response to management

Gaigher, Rene (2013-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2013.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Invasive species are among the most important global conservation threats. Their management is one of the key conservation challenges that will have to be addressed in the next few decades. The study of real invasions and their management in natural ecosystems provides an opportunity to gain important information on theoretical and applied aspects of biological invasions. This project focuses on the broader ecological context of invasive ant management in an ecologically sensitive island habitat. The thesis has three main components: 1) assessing the role of the invasive ant Pheidole megacephala in the ecosystem and evaluating its threat to the system, 2) evaluating a low-impact management program for the ant, and 3) using a community-level approach to assess ecosystem response to ant removal. The ant occupied almost 30% of the island‘s total land area and reached extremely high densities in some areas. The ant was associated with exotic hemipteran scale insects through trophobiotic mutualisms that facilitated high ant and hemipteran abundances. The highly destructive scale insect Pulvinaria urbicola was among the hemipterans that benefited from ant attendance. High levels of hemipteran feeding resulted in dieback of functionally important and threatened native Pisonia trees, which represented a significant threat to the forest ecosystem. A management program was initiated in response to this threat, consisting of baiting with selective hydramethylnon-based bait delivered in bait stations, accompanied by detailed pre-and post-baiting monitoring. The method was highly effective at suppressing the ants, whilst preventing bait uptake by non-target organisms. It was also cost-effective and adaptable to ant density in the field, but was only effective over short distances. The method may be applicable to other sensitive environments with similar challenges. After ant control, the ant-scale mutualism was decoupled and the Pu. urbicola population collapsed. There were variable responses in different taxa to the removal of these highly abundant exotic species, the most important of which was the recovery in Pisonia trees. Shoot condition and foliage density improved and there was a decrease in sooty mold. Herbivory on Pisonia increased due to recovery of native canopy herbivores, but the overall impact was far less than that of the exotic hemipterans. Soil surface arthropods, a group that may have been vulnerable to the treatment method, were unaffected by baiting. Instead, they increased significantly after ant removal, confirming the ant‘s impact on other arthropods. Other ant diversity and non-ant arthropod abundance increased post-baiting, including the endemic ant Pheidole flavens farquharensis and some functionally important insects such as the Indian cockroach. Natural enemies that interacted predictably with the mutualists were influenced by management. Predators of hemipterans increased significantly after ant removal and were instrumental in the scale population collapse, whereas parasitoids of hemipterans that benefited from the mutualism declined. Additionally, groups that were unrelated to the mutualism were indirectly influenced by management. The natural enemy assemblage as a whole showed recovery to pre-invasion conditions. The study shows how widely interconnected and influential the ant was in the ecosystem. It highlights the threat of the species in natural systems as well as the complex responses following invasive ant removal. Yet, it also demonstrates the potential to safely and effectively manage the species, thereby raising the opportunity for ecosystem recovery.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Indringerspesies is van die belangrikste globale bedreigings vir natuurbewaring. Hulle bestuur is van die grootste bewaringsuitdagings wat in die volgende paar dekades aangespreek moet word. Die studie van werklike invalle en hul bestuur in natuurlike ekosisteme bied 'n geleentheid om belangrike inligting te verkry oor teoretiese en toegepaste aspekte van biologiese indringing. Hierdie projek fokus op die breër ekologiese konteks van uitheemse mier bestuur in 'n ekologies sensitiewe eiland habitat. Die tesis het drie hoofkomponente: 1) die beoordeling van die rol van die indringer mier Pheidole megacephala in die ekosisteem en evaluering van sy bedreiging vir die sisteem, 2) die evaluering van 'n lae-impak bestuursprogram vir die mier, en 3) die gebruik van 'n gemeenskaps-vlak benadering om ekosisteem reaksie op mierverwydering te assesseer. Die mier het byna 30% van die totale landoppervlak van die eiland beslaan en het in party areas baie hoë digthede bereik. Die mier was geassosieer met uitheemse dopluis spesies in mutualismes wat hoë mier en dopluis getalle gefasiliteer het. Die hoogs beskadigende dopluis Pulvinaria urbicola was een van die spesies wat bevoordeel is deur die mutualisme. Hoë vlakke van dopluis voeding het die terugsterwe van funksioneel belangrike, bedreidge inheemse Pisonia bome veroorsaak, wat ʼn groot bedreiging vir die ekosisteem verteenwoordig het. ‗n Bestuursprogram is geïmplimenteer as gevolg van hierdie bedreiging, wat bestaan het uit selektiewe hidrametielnoon-gebaseerde lokaas wat in die veld geplaas is in lokaashouers, vergesel deur intensiewe monitering voor en na lokaasplasing. Die metode was hoogs effektief in die onderdrukking van die miere en het lokaasinname deur nie-teiken organismes verhoed. Dit was ook koste-effektief en aanpasbaar volgens mierdigtheid in die veld, maar was slegs effektief oor kort afstande. Die metode mag van toepassing wees in ander sensitiewe omgewings met soortgelyke uitdagings. Na mierbeheer is die mier-dopluis mutualisme ontkoppel en die Pu. urbicola bevolking het drasties verminder. Daar was verskillende reaksies in verskillende taxa tot die verwydering van die oorvloedryke eksotiese spesies, maar die belangrikste reaksie was die herstel van Pisonia bome. Spruittoestand en blaardigtheid het verbeter en daar was ʼn afname in roetskimmel. Herbivorie op Pisonia het toegeneem as gevolg van ʼn herstel in inheemse herbivore, maar die algehele impak was veel minder as dié van die eksotiese dopluis. Grondoppervlak gelidpotiges, 'n groep wat kwesbaar kon wees vir die behandelingsmetode, was onaangeraak deur die lokaas, maar het beduidend na mierverwydering vermeerder. Mierdiversiteit het vermeerder en die Seychelles endemiese mier Pheidole flavens farquharensis is hervestig. Ander gelidpotiges het ook vermeerder, insluitend funksioneel belangrike spesies soos die Indiese kakkerlak. Natuurlike vyande wat geassosieer was met die mutualiste is beïnvloed deur die mierbestuur. Predatore van dopluis het beduidend toegeneem na mierverwydering en was hoogs betrokke by die vermindering van dopluis, terwyl parasiete van dopluis, wat voordeel getrek het uit die mutualisme, gedaal het. Daarbenewens is groepe wat onverwant was aan die mutualisme indirek beïnvloed deur mierbestuur. Die algehele natuurlike vyand gemeenskap het herstel na pre-indringing toestand. Die studie toon hoe wydverbind en invloedryk die mier was in die ekosisteem. Dit beklemtoon die bedreiging van die spesies in natuurlike stelsels asook die komplekse reaksies wat uitheemse mierverwydering volg. Tog demonstreer dit die potensiaal om die spesies veilig en doeltreffend te bestuur, en sodoende die geleentheid vir ekosisteemherstel te skep.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/79877
This item appears in the following collections: