Using nutritional geometry to define the fundamental macronutrient niche of the widespread invasive ant Monomorium pharaonis.
The emerging field of nutritional geometry (NG) provides powerful new approaches to test whether and how organisms prioritize specific nutritional blends when consuming chemically complex foods. NG approaches can thus help move beyond food-level estimates of diet breadth to predict invasive success, for instance by revealing narrow nutritional niches if broad diets are actually composed of nutritionally similar foods. We used two NG paradigms to provide different, but complementary insights into nutrient regulation strategies and test a hypothesis of extreme nutritional generalism in colony propagules of the globally distributed invasive ant Monomorium pharaonis. First, in two dimensions (protein:carbohydrates; P:C), M. pharaonis colonies consistently defended a slightly carbohydrate-biased intake target, while using a generalist equal-distance strategy of collectively overharvesting both protein and carbohydrates to reach this target when confined to imbalanced P:C diets. Second, a recently developed right-angled mixture triangle method enabled us to define the fundamental niche breadth in three dimensions (protein:carbohydrates:lipid, P:C:L). We found that colonies navigated the P:C:L landscape, in part, to mediate a tradeoff between worker survival (maximized on high-carbohydrate diets) and brood production (maximized on high-protein diets). Colonies further appeared unable to avoid this tradeoff by consuming extra lipids when the other nutrients were limiting. Colonies also did not rely on nutrient regulation inside their nests, as they did not hoard or scatter fractions of harvested diets to adjust the nutritional blends they consumed. These complementary NG approaches highlight that even the most successful invasive species with broad fundamental macronutrient niches must navigate complex multidimensional nutritional landscapes to acquire limiting macronutrients and overcome developmental constraints as small propagules.