The direct and indirect effects of the red imported fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) on seed fate in the longleaf pine ecosystem
Shearin, Margaret Elaine
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Fire ants have invaded and become established throughout the southeastern United States, primarily in environments with highly disturbed vegetation. We examined the influence of timber harvest disturbance on ant community composition in natural longleaf pine stands with fire ants present. We also examined the direct impacts of fire ants on seed removal and seed fate. We found no change in the ant community in response to harvest treatments applied in this study, but effects may appear over time. Fire ants were the dominant seed remover in this area, and preferentially removed seeds with elaiosomes. Once elaiosome-bearing seeds were removed by fire ants, a third were found deposited in trash piles on the soil surface. No seeds were located in nest chambers. We found no evidence that ants caused a decrease in ant-manipulated seed germination. Our findings indicate that fire ants do facilitate some movement of seeds in the longleaf ecosystem.