Generalized mutualisms are often predicted to be resilient to changes in partner identity. Variation in mutualism-related traits between native and invasive species however, can exacerbate the spread of invasive species (‘invasional meltdown’) if invasive partners strongly interact. Here we show how invasion by a seed-dispersing ant (Myrmica rubra) promotes recruitment of a co-introduced invasive over native ant-dispersed (myrmecochorous) plants. We created experimental communities of invasive (M. rubra) or native ants (Aphaenogaster rudis) and invasive and native plants and measured seed dispersal and plant recruitment. In our mesocosms, and in laboratory and field trials, M. rubra acted as a superior seed disperser relative to the native ant. By contrast, previous studies have found that invasive ants are often poor seed dispersers compared with native ants. Despite belonging to the same behavioural guild, seed-dispersing ants were not functionally redundant. Instead, native and invasive ants had strongly divergent effects on plant communities: the invasive plant dominated in the presence of the invasive ant and the native plants dominated in the presence of the native ant. Community changes were not due to preferences for coevolved partners: variation in functional traits of linked partners drove differences. Here, we show that strongly interacting introduced mutualists can be major drivers of ecological change.
Proc B Dryad_mesocosm dispersal data: The number of dispersed seeds in mesocosms for four plant species under different ant treatments: (AR = single colony of native ant, MR = single colony of invasive ant, ARAR and MRMR double colonies of either species, NOANTS controls.
Proc B Dryad_mesocosm recruitment: Plant recruitment of four plant species in mesocosms with different ant treatments.
Prior et al. 2015_Field dispersal data
Prior et al. 2015_Lab dispersal data