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Invasive ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes) disrupts pollination in pumpkin

Sinu, Palatty Allesh, Sibisha, V. C., Nikhila Reshmi, M. V., Reshmi, K. S., Jasna, T. V., Aswathi, K., Megha, P. P.
Biological invasions 2017 v.19 no.9 pp. 2599-2607
Anoplolepis gracilipes, Cucurbita maxima, cash crops, cross pollination, ecological invasion, foraging, fruit set, fruits, honey, honey bees, monoecy, nectar, pollinators, pumpkins, selection pressure, India
Yellow crazy ant (Anoplolepis gracilipes (F. Smith); “YCA”) is known for its aggressive predatory ability and ability to exert exploitation competition on both native and other invasive ants via floral nectar. We argue that YCA invasion can exert both interference and exploitation competition on legitimate pollinators. In pumpkin fields (Cucurbita maxima L.) of south India, YCA infested the flowers, particularly the pistillate flowers, for nectar foraging. Pumpkin is a honey bee-mediated cross-pollinated monoecious plant that produces disproportionately very few pistillate flowers. We hypothesize that YCA presence in the flowers can affect the visitation rate and foraging time of honey bees in the flowers, the fruit set in pumpkins, and can exert predatory pressure on the honey bees if the bees linger in ant-colonized flowers. Both YCA and honey bees preferred to forage on the limited pistillate flowers in the plants. After colonizing the flowers, YCA did not retreat for hours, even upon disturbance by competitors, such as honey bees. Both the visitation frequency and the foraging time of honey bees were drastically reduced in ant-colonized flowers, and none of the ant-colonized flowers developed into fruits, suggesting that the YCA exert both an ecological and evolutionary pressure on pumpkin. The ants preyed upon about 17% of the honey bees that lingered in ant-colonized flowers, and the time the bees spent foraging predicted the fate of the bees. Exploitation competition exerted by the YCA on pumpkin may have far-reaching consequences for the pollination and productivity of this cash crop.