Is the blue tit falling into an ecological trap in Argentine ant invaded forests?

Because insectivorous birds must evaluate resources for reproduction before settling into a breeding habitat, they can fall into an ecological trap if informative cues about habitat suitability become dissociated from their actual yield. Given their potential to affect ecological networks, invasive ant species are potential candidates for triggering such ecological traps. We combined observational and experimental approaches to examine whether the variation in food supply for nestlings resulting from the invasion of the Argentine ant, Linepithema humile, had any influence on the breeding ecology of the blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus, an insectivorous foliage-gleaner. We investigated the effects of the ant invasion on breeding performance (nesting success, clutch size, brood size and breeding success) and offspring quality (body size and condition, developmental stability and plumage colour) in replicated Mediterranean forest areas over a period of 3 years. There was no evidence that the reduction in caterpillar availability resulting from the invasion had a concurrent negative effect on the blue tit’s ability to successfully rear nestlings in optimal conditions, at least as measured here. Although the raw figures suggest an increased level of nutritional stress in blue tits breeding in invaded forests, the data analyses showed no significant alterations in terms of productivity or offspring fitness. The reproductive performance of the blue tit has been shown to be remarkably resilient to the Argentine ant-mediated food shortage, either because the prey reduction following the invasion did not reach a critical threshold or because of compensatory activity by the progenitors. We cannot conclusively reject an ecological trap triggered by the ant invasion on blue tits, since neither fledgling recruitment nor the prospective survival of parents were assessed. Even though we could not confirm short-term consequences of the Argentine ant invasion on blue tit reproductive fitness, the long-term bottom-up effects of the invasion remain unknown and should not be ruled out ​
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