Pisonia grandis monocultures limit the spread of an invasive ant - a case of carbohydrate quality?
The mechanisms by which invasive species are able to spread into and dominate natural communities are poorly understood and remain a focus of invasion research. In this quest, studying invasions that are limited by a controlling factor will be more informative than will studies documenting unabated spread and impacts. Some ant species are very successful invaders, and research demonstrating abiotic and biotic factors limiting their success has aided the understanding of invasion ecology. We report here a study showing the highly invasive African big headed ant Pheidole megacephala having a novel distribution on coral cays within Australia's Great Barrier Reef. These patterns displayed a clear limitation of its distribution with monocultures of the tree Pisonia grandis. This distribution was contrary to the known environmental limitations of the ant, and the limitation could not be associated with an underlying abiotic determinant of the vegetation type. We present these distributional patterns, and following consideration of all known biotic and abiotic limitations of ant invasions we discuss the potential that the peculiar ecophysiology of P. grandis is the causal factor. Specifically, we suggest that the quality of carbohydrate supply to ants is a limitation to invasive spread in much the same way that carbohydrate quantity is known to affect ant population densities in other ecosystems.