Interspecific co-mpetition between the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren and ghost ant, Tapinoma melanocephalum Fabricius for honeydew resources produced by an invasive mealybug, Phenacoccus solenopsis Tinsiley.
In natural as in agricultural ecosystems, interactions between ants and honeydew-producing hemipterans are commonly observed. Mutualisms between invasive ants and hemipterans have been extensively studied in recent years. However, native ant species can equally exploit the honeydew excreted by hemipterans, and establish close relationships with them. Up till present, little is known about the competition between exotic ants (such as Solenopsis invicta) and its co-occurring species (e.g., Tapinoma melanocephalum) for this food resource. In this study, we compared the competitive ability of the invasive ant S. invicta and its co-occurring species T. melanocephalum in the laboratory. We also determined whether the two ant species could coexist and share honeydew resource. Our results indicate that the foraging activity of T. melanocephalum was restrained by S. invicta. Mortality of S. invicta and T. melanocephalum was significantly higher in T. melanocephalum colony case than that in other cases. The invasive ability between the two ant species was significantly different. These results suggest that S. invicta suppresses exploitation of honeydew-producing hemipterans by native ants and occupies most of honeydew resource. S. invicta could not completely drive T. melanocephalum out of honeydew competition, with small numbers of T. melanocephalum workers coexisting and sharing the honeydew with S. invicta. This finding permits a better understanding of the invasion success of S. invicta, and its ability to occupy new habitats.