By Megan Pettey
The effects of climate change could be detrimental for certain key species in the Great Smoky Mountains by creating a more hospitable environment for needle ants, an invasive species that drives out native ant populations.
Needle ants are an aggressive species with large colonies that become active earlier in the year compared to other ants, giving them a head start when reproducing. The growing number of these territorial ants in the Smokies could displace local ant populations, which would have significant impacts on plants and other species.
The presence of this invasive population poses a threat to the symbiotic relationships between plants and native ants, such as the Aphaenogaster rudis ants that disperse seeds for nearly one-third of the plant species across the Smokies, according to researchers Daniel Malagon and Andrew Kanes.