Behavioural variation and plasticity along an invasive ant introduction pathway

Antoine Felden, Carolina I. Paris, David G. Chapple, John Haywood, Andrew V. Suarez, Neil D. Tsutsui, Philip J. Lester, Monica A.M. Gruber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Once established in new areas, introduced species may exhibit changes in their biology due to phenotypic plasticity, novel selection pressures and genetic drift. Moreover, the introduction process itself has been hypothesised to act as a selective filter for traits that promote invasiveness. We tested the hypothesis that behaviours thought to promote invasiveness—such as increased foraging activity and aggression—are selected for during invasion by comparing traits among native and introduced populations of the widespread Argentine ant (Linepithema humile). We studied Argentine ant populations in the native range in Argentina and in three invaded regions along an introduction pathway: California, Australia and New Zealand. In each region, we set up 32 experimental colonies to measure foraging activity and interspecific aggression in a subset of the study regions. These colonies were subject to experimental manipulation of carbohydrate availability and octopamine, a biogenic amine known to modulate behaviour in insects, to measure variation in behavioural plasticity. We found variation in foraging activity among populations, but this variation was not consistent with selection on behaviour in relation to the invasion process. We found that colonies with limited access to carbohydrates exhibited unchanged exploratory behaviour, but higher exploitation activity and lower aggression. Colonies given octopamine consistently increased foraging behaviour (both exploration and exploitation), as well as aggression when also sugar-deprived. There was no difference in the degree of behavioural response to our experimental treatments along the introduction pathway. We did not find support for selection of behavioural traits associated with invasiveness along the Argentine ant's introduction pathway or clear evidence for an association between the introduction process and variation in behavioural plasticity. These results indicate that mechanisms promote behavioural variation in a similar fashion both in native and introduced ranges. Our results challenge the assumption that introduced populations always perform better in key behavioural traits hypothesised to be associated with invasion success.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1653-1666
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • behavioural plasticity
  • behavioural variation
  • biological invasions
  • introduction pathway
  • invasive species

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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