Effects of the Argentine ant Linepithema humile on seed dispersal and seedling emergence of Rhamnus alaternus.
We studied influence of the Argentine ant's Linepithema humile occurrence on seed dispersal of Rhamnus alaternus (Rhamnaceae) in two areas of Gavarres Massif, Girona, Spain. R. alaternus is a fleshy fruit plant dispersed primarily by birds; the seeds have an elaiosome attractive to ants. The observations were made in two study plots of Mediterranean cork-oak forests (one invaded and the other not invaded by L. humile) over two years. For R. alaternus, presence of L. humile was associated with of the following: reduction of seed transport to ant nests (80.2% of seed offered were removed in non-invaded vs 7.1% in invaded area), a shorter seed dispersal distance (mean=90.2 cm in non-invaded vs 1.1 cm in invaded area), increase in seed retention time on the soil surface (median time in non-invaded was 50 vs 209.2 min in invaded area) and increased vulnerability to predation. In addition there was lower probability of seedling emergence, due to little elaiosome removal from the seeds (82.0% of emergence for seeds without elaiosome and 57.3% for seeds with elaiosome). These results, similar to findings obtained in South African fynbos, confirm that the Argentine ant invasion can strongly affect ecosystem processes in the Mediterranean biome.