Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Presence of native and non-native ants linked to lower emergence success of loggerhead sea turtle nests: implications for management.

Abstract

Ants have been suggested as one of many population pressures sea turtles face potentially affecting nesting-beach survival of eggs and hatchlings. However, little is known about the extent to which ants act as incidental or primary mortality factors. Most research has focused on New World fire ants (genus Solenopsis), with confirmed records of other ant species interactions with sea turtle nests in situ being rare. Our study documented the ant species associated with loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta (Linnaeus) (Testudines: Cheloniidae) nests in Georgia and determined if ant presence was linked to lower hatching or emergence success. Samples (n = 116) collected from sea turtle nests on eight islands contained 14 ant species including Solenopsis invicta Buren (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), the red imported fire ant, which was the most common ant species encountered. Ant presence was not correlated with lower hatching success, but when other known disturbances were removed, correlated with significantly lower nest emergence success (P < 0.0001). Logistic modeling suggests that proximity of sea turtle nests to the primary dune significantly increases risk of ant predation on hatchling sea turtles. Population managers can reduce this risk by maintaining a 1-m buffer shoreward between dune vegetation and relocated sea turtle nests. Our results suggest that ants may exert a density-dependent pressure on nesting sea turtle populations and call for additional investigations to determine if managing native and invasive ants augments other efforts to improve hatchling survival.