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Unpeaceful Co-existence: How Strengths And Weaknesses Maintain Biodiversity In An Ant Community

Date:
February 12, 2007
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
Many species of ants scavenge for the same food, but the single most efficient species doesn't drive the others to extinction. Adler et al. modeled this unpeaceful co-existence. Some species are better at finding food while others are better at defending it. Some ants are efficient at both but flee when their own enemies (parasitoid flies) arrive.

Ants swarm over a large cricket that must be defended and cut up to be returned to the nest.
Credit: F. Adler

Many species of ants scavenge for the same kinds of food. Why then doesn't the single most efficient species drive the others to extinction? A research group based at the University of Utah conducted a detailed study of ants in the mountains of southeastern Arizona to identify exactly how they manage to share the same environment. The study appears in the March issue of the American Naturalist.

They found that some species are better at finding food resources (dead crickets left by researchers) while others are better at defending them. This so-called dominance-discovery tradeoff is complicated by the size of the cricket because small crickets can be collected so quickly that defense is unimportant.

For both large and small crickets, two ant species are adept at both finding and defending resources, and would be predicted to outcompete the others because they violate the tradeoff. But it is precisely these ants that are beset by parasitoid flies which lay their eggs specifically on these types of ant, eventually causing a gruesome death by decapitation. When the target ants see the flies hovering around, they run away and are unable to effectively defend resources.

Using mathematical models, the team showed that this combination of factors is indeed sufficient to explain how five of the six most common species manage to survive, with the sixth remaining a bit of a mystery. "Just like people, different ants have different strengths and weaknesses, and these differences allow them to coexist, although not peacefully," says Ed LeBrun. "Developing a quantitative understanding of the mechanisms by which species coexist is essential to knowing how to preserve biodiversity," adds Fred Adler. "Our quantitative approach should be useful in modeling the potential success or failure of invasive ant species," concludes Don Feener.

Founded in 1867, The American Naturalist is one of the world's most renowned, peer-reviewed publications in ecology, evolution, and population and integrative biology research. AN emphasizes sophisticated methodologies and innovative theoretical syntheses--all in an effort to advance the knowledge of organic evolution and other broad biological principles.

F. R. Adler (University of Utah), E. G. LeBrun (University of Texas, Austin), and D. H. Feener Jr. (University of Utah), "Maintaining diversity in an ant community: modeling, extending, and testing the dominance-discovery tradeoff"


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The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Chicago Press Journals. "Unpeaceful Co-existence: How Strengths And Weaknesses Maintain Biodiversity In An Ant Community." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 February 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070210170640.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2007, February 12). Unpeaceful Co-existence: How Strengths And Weaknesses Maintain Biodiversity In An Ant Community. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070210170640.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "Unpeaceful Co-existence: How Strengths And Weaknesses Maintain Biodiversity In An Ant Community." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/02/070210170640.htm (accessed October 22, 2014).

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