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Verification of Argentine ant defensive compounds and their behavioral effects on heterospecific competitors and conspecific nestmates


The invasive Argentine ant (Linepithema humile) has become established worldwide in regions with Mediterranean or subtropical climates. The species typically disrupts the balance of natural ecosystems by competitively displacing some native ant species via strong exploitation and interference competition. Here we report that Argentine ants utilize glandular secretions for inter and intra-specific communications during aggressive interactions with a heterospecific competitor, California harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex californicus). Chemical analyses indicated that Argentine ants deploy glandular secretions containing two major volatile iridoids, dolichodial and iridomyrmecin, on the competitor's cuticular surface during aggressive interactions. Bioassays indicated that the glandular secretions function as a defensive allomone, causing high levels of irritation in the heterospecific. Furthermore, the same glandular secretions elicited alarm and attraction of conspecific nestmates, potentially enabling more rapid/coordinated defense by the Argentine ants. Two major volatile constituents of the glandular secretion, dolichodial and iridomyrmecin, were sufficient to elicit these responses in conspecifics (as a mixture or individual compounds). The current study suggests that invasive Argentine ants' superior exploitation and interference competition may rely on the species' effective semiochemical parsimony.

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