Ecological dominance by Paratrechina longicornis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae),an invasive tramp ant, in Biosphere 2

  • J. K. Wetterer
  • S. E. Miller
  • D. E. Wheeler
  • C. A. Olson
  • D. A. Polhemus
  • M. Pitts
  • I. W. Ashton
  • A. G. Himler
  • M. M. Yospin
  • K. R. Helms
  • E. L. Harken
  • J. Gallaher
  • C. E. Dunning
  • M. Nelson
  • J. Litsinger
  • A. Southern
  • T. L. Burgess


Tramp ants are invading disturbed ecosystems worldwide, exterminating untold numbers of native species. They have even invaded Biosphere 2, a 1.28-hectare closed greenhouse structure built in the Arizona desert as a microcosm for studying ecological interactions and global change. Invertebrate surveys within Biosphere 2 from 1990 to 1997 have revealed dramatic changes in faunal composition, including an almost complete replacement of the ant fauna by a single tramp ant species. In 1990-91, surveys in Biosphere 2 found no one ant species dominant. By 1993, populations of the crazy ant, Paratrechina longicornis (Latreille), a tramp species not found in 1990-91, had increased to extremely high levels. In 1996, virtually all ants (>99.9%) coming to bait were P. longicornis. We observed P. longicornis foragers feeding almost exclusively on the sugary excretions (honeydew) produced by vast numbers of Homoptera, primarily scale insects and mealybugs, found on many of the plants. High densities of ants were associated with high densities of homopterans. In 1997, soil and litter surveys found that the only invertebrates thriving in Biosphere 2, besides P. longicornis and homopterans, were either species with effective defenses against ants (well-armored isopods and millipedes) or tiny subterranean species that can escape ant predation (mites, thief ants, and springtails). A convergent pattern of biodiversity occurs in disturbed tropical and subtropical ecosystems dominated by tramp ants.
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