Biological Invasions

, Volume 15, Issue 10, pp 2311–2331 | Cite as

Invasive ants as back-seat drivers of native ant diversity decline in New Caledonia

Original Paper


Biological invasions are typically associated with disturbance, which often makes their impact on biodiversity unclear—biodiversity decline might be driven by disturbance, with the invader just being a ‘passenger’. Alternatively, an invader may act as a ‘back-seat driver’, being facilitated by disturbance that has already caused some biodiversity decline, but then causing further decline. Here we examine the interactive effects of anthropogenic fire and invasive ant species (Anoplolepis gracilipes or Wasmannia auropunctata) on native ant diversity in New Caledonia, a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot. We first examined native ant diversity at nine paired burnt and unburnt sites, with four pairs invaded by Anoplolepis, 5 years after an extensive fire. In the absence of invasion, native epigaeic ants were resilient to fire, but native ant richness and the abundance of Forest Opportunists were markedly lower in invaded burnt sites. Second, we examined native ant diversity along successional gradients from human-derived savanna to natural rainforest in the long-term absence of fire, where there was a disconnection between disturbance-mediated variation in microhabitat and the abundance of the disturbance specialist Wasmannia. All native ant diversity responses (total abundance, richness, species composition, functional group richness and the abundance of Forest Opportunists) declined independently of microhabitat variables but in direct association with high Wasmannia abundance. Our results indicate that invasive ants are acting as back-seat drivers of biodiversity decline in New Caledonia, with invasion facilitated by disturbance but then causing further biodiversity decline.


Fire Functional groups Habitat disturbance Interactive effects Edge-effects Biodiversity hotspot 



We thank Ben Hoffmann, Andrew Suarez, Nathan Sanders and Andy Sheppard for their comments on draft versions of this paper. We are most grateful to the Gohapin tribe for welcoming us onto their land in the Aoupinié region; to the New Caledonian Direction de l’Environnement of both Province Sud and Province Nord for providing collecting permits; to Frederic Rigault and Gilles Dagostini for botanical information; to Denis Meandu-Poveu, Cinzia Spinnelli, Perrine Poher, Quentin Auriac, Viviane Degret and Barabara Pianu for help in the field and in the lab; and to Keith McGuiness for statistical advice. This study was funded as part of the ‘Incendies Nouvelle Caledonie’ project (INC), financed by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche BDIV-07-008 (ANR, France) and by the Southern Province of New Caledonia; we also thank INC project leaders Christelle Hély and Cédric Gaucherel for their support.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maïa Berman
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Alan N. Andersen
    • 1
  • Thomas Ibanez
    • 4
  1. 1.CSIRO Ecosystem SciencesWinnellieAustralia
  2. 2.Research Institute for the Environment and LivelihoodsCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  3. 3.Université de Montpellier II, UMR AMAPMontpellierFrance
  4. 4.Institut Agronomique néo-Calédonien (IAC)/UMR AMAP/Centre IRDNouméa, Nouvelle-CalédonieFrance

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