The balance between costs and benefits is expected to drive associations between species. While these balances are well understood for strict associations, we have no insights to which extent they determine facultative associations between species. Here, we quantified the costs of living in a facultative association, by studying the effects of red wood ants on the facultatively associated isopod Porcellio scaber. Porcellio scaber frequently occurred in and near hostile red wood ant nests and might outnumber obligate nest associates. The facultative association involved different costs for the isopod. We found that the density of the isopod decreases near the nest with higher ant traffic. Individuals in and near the nest were smaller than individuals further away from the nest. Smaller individuals were also found at sites with higher ant traffic. A higher proportion of wounded individuals was found closer to the nest and with higher ant traffic. We recorded pregnant females and juveniles in the nest suggesting that the life cycle can be completed inside the nests. Lab experiments showed that females died sooner and invested less in reproduction in presence of red wood ants. Porcellio scaber rarely provoked an aggression response, but large numbers were carried as prey to the nest. These preyed isopods were mainly dried out corpses. Our results showed that the ant association incurred several costs for a facultative associate. Consequently, red wood ant nests and their surrounding territory act as an alternative habitat where demographic costs are offset by a stable resource provisioning and protection.
- Ant associate