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Competition as possible driver of dietary specialisation in the mushroom harvesting ant Euprenolepis procera (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

Lizon à l’Allemand, Sofia and Brückner, Adrian and Hashim, Rosli and Witte, Volker and von Beeren, Christoph (2019) Competition as possible driver of dietary specialisation in the mushroom harvesting ant Euprenolepis procera (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Myrmecological News, 29 . pp. 79-91. ISSN 1997-3500. doi:10.25849/myrmecol.news_029:079.

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Competition between co-existing species for limited resources is considered a main driving force of niche differentiation, including dietary specialization. Responses to interference competition vary, ranging from combat in dominant species to avoidance in submissive ones. Submissive species often show alternative strategies to avoid competition such as quick and efficient resource exploitation or shifts to less competitive resources. In the present study, we have evaluated the potential role of interference competition as driver of dietary specialisation in the mushroom-harvesting formicine ant Euprenolepis procera (Emery, 1900). This ant harvests a broad spectrum of wild-growing mushroom fruiting bodies – an exceptional diet among ants. We asked whether competition avoidance for more typical ant diets could explain the high degree of dietary specialization in E. procera. In baiting experiments at the Ulu Gombak field station, Malaysia, we first showed that E. procera also utilizes alternative food sources (tuna and honey) demonstrating that mushroom-harvesting is not a hard-wired foraging strategy. In contrast to expectations, E. procera’s competitive ability for these resources was relatively high compared with other ants in the community. In a second experiment, we offered three resources (honey, tuna, mushroom) simultaneously and close to each other in baiting stations. In the absence of other ants, all three resources were exploited at similarly high rates by E. procera workers. However, E. procera avoided foraging on tuna and honey baits when those baits were utilized by other ants. This context-dependent food choice behaviour in E. procera suggests that the exceptional dietary specialization on wild-growing mushrooms represents a case of competition-induced niche differentiation. Finally, we provide new data about the geographic distribution and about variability in seasonal dietary preferences of E. procera.

Item Type:Article
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URLURL TypeDescription
Brückner, Adrian0000-0002-9184-8562
von Beeren, Christoph0000-0002-0072-5795
Additional Information:© 2019 The Author(s). Open access, licensed under CC BY 4.0. Received 22 February 2019; revision received 26 April 2019; accepted 30 April 2019. We thank two anonymous reviewers, Nico Blüthgen, Andrew Bruce, Angelika Pohl, and Sebastian Pohl for valuable comments on manuscript drafts and Max Kölbl, Deborah Schweinfest, Hannah Kriesell and Daniel Schließmann for assistance in the field.
Subject Keywords:Niche differentiation, competition avoidance, mushroom harvesting, dietary specialisation, mycophagy
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20190911-160629607
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:98593
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:11 Sep 2019 23:15
Last Modified:05 Jan 2022 23:11

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