Quirks and Quarks

Invasive Fire Ants Help Invasive Plant

North America is invaded by European ants spreading the seeds of an invasive European plant.
European Fire Ant, Myrmica rubra (JG Sanders)
The European fire ant is an invasive species that was first discovered in the United States around 1900. This red ant with a powerful sting is now known in many places in Canada, and is especially abundant in southern Ontario. Dr. Megan Frederickson, an Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, has studied the European fire ant's role in a phenomenon known as "invasional meltdown." This a situation in which two invasive species help each other. In this case, the European fire ant spreads the seeds of the invasive Greater Celandine plant - a spring wild flower. In a lab experiment, the fire ant out-performed a native seed-spreading ant. As a result, three native spring wild flowers were overrun by the Greater Celandine. It is not clear yet if the success of the plant is contributing to the growth of the fire ant population.   

Related Links

Paper in The Royal Society Proceedings B
University Of Toronto release
- Toronto Star story
Globe & Mail story