Evading invaders: the effectiveness of a behavioral response acquired through lifetime exposure.
Understanding the mechanisms driving adaptations to survive agonistic interactions, and their function, provides insight into how native species adapt to aggressive invaders, a growing global threat. We staged encounters between native fence lizards (Sceloporus undulatus) and red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) on and off the ant mound (nest) to examine the effectiveness of lizard antipredator behavior through ontogeny while focusing on the impact of lifetime and evolutionary exposure to this invasive threat. We used field-caught and lab-reared lizards from a fire ant-invaded and an uninvaded site. In ∼90% of cases, fire ants found lizards within 12 min in natural lizard habitat. Lizards that performed rapid twitches of their body and/or fled after initial encounter with a fire ant scout reduced their risk of having additional fire ants recruit to the attack. The majority of lizards that had been exposed to fire ants within their lifetime (field-caught lizards from the invaded site) behaviorally responded to attack, whereas relatively few lizards that were naïve to fire ants (all lab-reared lizards and field-caught lizards from the uninvaded site) responded. Because fewer adult lizards responded to fire ants than juveniles, they were recruited to by additional attacking ants significantly more than were juveniles. Our data suggest that the higher percentage of responsive adults within invaded populations is the result of within-lifetime selection acting against unresponsive adults, and/or lifetime exposure to fire ants triggering the retention of this juvenile behavior into adulthood, rather than selection acting on a heritable trait across generations.