Invasive Species Compendium

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Abstract

Surfactant affects the tool use behavior of foraging ants.

Abstract

Surfactants are commonly used in detergents, soaps and agrichemical products. After use, the residual surfactants can be dispersed into environmental compartments, directly or indirectly affecting aquatic and terrestrial organisms. Ants are one of the few insects that are able to make and use tools when foraging for liquid food. However, this unique behavior of ants may be greatly affected by environmental pollutants. Here, we hypothesized that surfactants have adversarial impacts on ant foraging behavior, and tested this hypothesis by investigating the effect of TWEEN 80 (a common nonionic surfactant) on the tool use behavior of black imported fire ants (Solenopsis richteri) when foraging for liquid food (sugar water). Natural pine needles and man-made sponges were provided as tools for ants. The results revealed increasing surfactant concentration induced ants to deposit more tools and caused a higher drowning rate of ants. S. richteri tended to deposit more pine needles and tools of smaller size when exposed to surfactant. Interactions between tool type and surfactant concentration showed significant effects on tool deposition and drowning rate of ants. Addition of surfactant into sugar water increased the drowning rate and reduced the foraging activity and food collection of ant workers, suggesting that surfactant in liquid food can affect the foraging efficiency of ants. However, availability of tools reduced drowning rate and increased sugar water collected compared to without tools. Our results demonstrated that ants can adjust their tool use strategies to manage the foraging risk caused by environmental surfactant, such as increasing the amount and selecting appropriate size of the tools and assembling tools of different structures. Therefore, long-term exposure to surfactants may alter foraging behavior of ants and contribute to evolve new foraging strategy.