The work proposed in this project aims at studying for the first time the presence and nature of the Allee Effect (AE) in ants, including native and invasive species, through theoretical and experimental studies. The AE gather phenomena that enhance the chances of survival and further development of a species as a direct consequence of individual aggregation and cooperation. This phenomenon of population growth occurs when there is a positive relationship between a component of individual fitness and population size mainly at small populations sizes or low densities. Ecological studies commonly focus on the opposite concepts of population dynamics and competition with the AE regarded as a process of limited relevance to natural populations. Recently, however, the AE has been the focus of increased interest in the light of concerns over conservation, the problem of rarity and the associated population dynamics, showing its important implications in many areas of ecology, evolution, and conservation. Eusocial insects, such as ants, are strong candidates for all sorts of AE mechanisms, due to the very nature of their social structure. The goals of the present project are to determine the presence and the mechanisms that may cause AE in different ant species with a variety of life-strategies (from native to invasive species and from one to more queens per colony) and to investigate its relation to the dynamics of invasive species. Together with the laboratory and field experiments, we will develop population dynamics models to explore the consequences of cooperation on the size and dynamics of the different ant species and life-strategies with a focus on understanding the potential role of AE in the dynamics of invasiveness, and that will be contrasted with the experimental data. The modeling approach will allow to use results for other issues in ecology, evolution and conservation with far reaching implications for these fields.
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