Menzel, F; Staab, M; Chung, AYC; Gebauer, G; Blüthgen, N: Trophic ecology of parabiotic ants: Do the partners have similar food niches?, Austral Ecology, 37, 537-546 (2012), doi:10.1111/j.1442-9993.2011.02290.x
Organisms associated with another species may experience both costs and benefits from their partner. One of these costs is competition, which is the more likely if the two species are ecologically similar. Parabioses are associations between two ant species that share a nest and often attend the same food sources. Albeit parabioses are probably mutualistic, parabiotic partners may compete for food. We therefore investigated feeding niches and dietary overlap of two parabiotically associated ants in Borneo using cafeteria experiments and stable isotope analyses. The two species strongly differed in their food choices. While Crematogaster modiglianii mostly foraged at carbohydrate-rich baits, Camponotus rufifemur preferred urea-rich sources. Both species also consumed animal protein.The 15N concentration in Ca. rufifemur workers was consistently lower than in Cr. modiglianii. Camponotus rufifemur but not Cr. modiglianii possesses microbial endosymbionts, which can metabolize urea and synthesize essential amino acids. Its lower 15N signature may result from a relatively higher intake of plant-based or otherwise 15N-depleted nitrogen. Isotopic signatures of the two partners in the same parabiosis showed strongly parallel variation across nests. As we did not find evidence for spatial autocorrelation, this correlation suggests an overlap of food sources between the two ant species. Based on model simulations, we estimated a diet overlap of 22–66% for nitrogen sources and 45–74% for carbon sources. The overlap may arise from either joint exploitation of the same food sources or trophallactic exchange of food. This suggests an intense trophic interaction and potential for competition between the parabiotic partners.
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