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Nest distribution varies with dispersal method and familiarity-mediated aggression for two sympatric ants
Dispersal mechanisms and competition together play a key role in the spatial distribution of a population. Species that disperse via fission are likely to experience high levels of localized competitive pressure from conspecifics relative to species that disperse in other ways. Although fission dispersal occurs in many species, its ecological and behavioural effects remain unclear. We compared foraging effort, nest spatial distribution and aggression of two sympatric ant species that differ in reproductive dispersal: Streblognathus peetersi, which disperse by group fission, and Plectroctena mandibularis, which disperse by solitary wingless queens. We found that although both species share space and have similar foraging strategies, they differ in nest distribution and aggressive behaviour. The spatial distribution of S. peetersi nests was extremely aggregated, and workers were less aggressive towards conspecifics from nearby nests than towards distant conspecifics and all heterospecific workers. By contrast, the spatial distribution of P. mandibularis nests was overdispersed, and workers were equally aggressive towards conspecific and heterospecific competitors regardless of nest distance. Finally, laboratory experiments showed that familiarity led to the positive relationship between aggression and nest distance in S. peetersi. While unfamiliar individuals were initially aggressive, the level of aggression decreased within 1 h of contact, and continued to decrease over 24 h. Furthermore, individuals from near nests that were not aggressive could be induced to aggression after prolonged isolation. Overall, these results suggest that low aggression mediated by familiarity could provide benefits for a species with fission reproduction and an aggregated spatial distribution.
familiarity-mediated aggression, fission dispersal, Plectroctena mandibularis, spatial distribution, Streblognathus peetersi
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