ANT BODY SIZE PREDICTS DISPERSAL DISTANCE OF ANT-ADAPTED SEEDS: IMPLICATIONS OF SMALL-ANT INVASIONS
The services provided within a community can change as the species composition of that community changes. For example, ant–seed dispersal mutualisms can be disrupted in habitats dominated by invasive ants. We propose that this disruption is related to changes in mean ant body size, given that invasive ants are smaller than most native seed-dispersing ants. We demonstrate that the mean and maximum distances that ants transport seeds adapted for ant dispersal increase with worker body size, and that this relationship is an accelerating power function. This pattern is consistent among three ant subfamilies that include most seed-dispersing ants as well as most invasive ant species, is generalizable across ant species and communities, and is independent of diaspore mass. Using a case study, we demonstrate that both the mean body size of seed-collecting ants and seed dispersal distances are decreased in sites invaded by Solenopsis invicta, the imported red fire ant. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the mean size of seed-collecting ants at a seed depot or within a community is a useful predictor of mean seed dispersal distances at those sites. Last, we show that small seed-collecting ants and decreased seed dispersal distances are common features of sites occupied by invasive ants. The link between ant body size and seed dispersal distance, combined with the dominance of invaded communities by typically small ants, predicts the disruption of native ant–seed dispersal mutualisms in invaded habitats.