Symbiotic microbiota may reflect host adaptation by resident to invasive ant species.
Exotic invasive species can influence the behavior and ecology of native and resident species, but these changes are often overlooked. Here we hypothesize that the ghost ant, Tapinoma melanocephalum, living in areas that have been invaded by the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, displays behavioral differences to interspecific competition that are reflected in both its trophic position and symbiotic microbiota. We demonstrate that T. melanocephalum workers from S. invicta invaded areas are less aggressive towards workers of S. invicta than those inhabiting non-invaded areas. Nitrogen isotope analyses reveal that colonies of T. melanocephalum have protein-rich diets in S. invicta invaded areas compared with the carbohydrate-rich diets of colonies living in non-invaded areas. Analysis of microbiota isolated from gut tissue shows that T. melanocephalum workers from S. invicta invaded areas also have different bacterial communities, including a higher abundance of Wolbachia that may play a role in vitamin B provisioning. In contrast, the microbiota of workers of T. melanocephalum from S. invicta-free areas are dominated by bacteria from the orders Bacillales, Lactobacillales and Enterobacteriales that may be involved in sugar metabolism. We further demonstrate experimentally that the composition and structure of the bacterial symbiont communities as well as the prevalence of vitamin B in T. melanocephalum workers from S. invicta invaded and non-invaded areas can be altered if T. melanocephalum workers are supplied with either protein-rich or carbohydrate-rich food. Our results support the hypothesis that bacterial symbiont communities can help hosts by buffering behavioral changes caused by interspecies competition as a consequence of biological invasions.