Moving apart together: co-movement of a symbiont community and their ant host, and its importance for community assembly

Thomas Parmentier, Ruben Claus, Frederik DE LAENDER, Dries Bonte

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Species interactions may affect spatial dynamics when the movement of one species is determined by the presence of another one. The most direct species-dependence of dispersal is vectored, usually cross-kingdom, movement of immobile parasites, diseases or seeds by mobile animals. Joint movements of species should, however, not be vectored by definition, as even mobile species are predicted to move together when they are tightly connected in symbiont communities.
We studied concerted movements in a diverse and heterogeneous community of arthropods (myrmecophiles) associated with red wood ants. We questioned whether joint-movement strategies eventually determine and speed-up community succession.
We recorded an astonishingly high number of obligate myrmecophiles outside red wood ant nests. They preferentially co-moved with the host ants as the highest densities were found in locations with the highest density of foraging red wood ants, such as along the network of ant trails. These observations suggest that myrmecophiles resort to the host to move away from the nest, and this to a much higher extent than hitherto anticipated. Interestingly, functional groups of symbionts displayed different dispersal kernels, with predatory myrmecophiles moving more frequently and further from the nest than detritivorous myrmecophiles. We discovered that myrmecophile diversity was lower in newly founded nests than in mature red wood ant nests. Most myrmecophiles, however, were able to colonize new nests fast suggesting that the heterogeneity in mobility does not affect community assembly.
We show that co-movement is not restricted to tight parasitic, or cross-kingdom interactions. Movement in social insect symbiont communities may be heterogeneous and functional group-dependent, but clearly affected by host movement. Ultimately, this co-movement leads to directional movement and allows a fast colonisation of new patches, but not in a predictable way. This study highlights the importance of spatial dynamics of local and regional networks in symbiont metacommunities, of which those of symbionts of social insects are prime examples.
langue originaleAnglais
Numéro d'article25
journalMovement Ecology
Numéro de publication1
Les DOIs
Etat de la publicationPublié - déc. 2021

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