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Current View: Pacific Islands: Tokelau
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Tokelau Ants

Kirsti Abbott

Like the ant fauna of other isolated tropical oceanic islands, including Hawaii, Tokelau’s ant fauna is a recently assembled mix of widespread tramp species, exotics and Pacific natives. Tokelau is the world’s smallest nation at 12 km2, but still manages to harbor 28 ant species. While the fauna does include two species endemic to the Pacific region, none are endemic or even native to the atolls of Tokelau. The country consists of three low-lying atolls, Fakaofo, Nukunonu and Atafu, which have at least one, and often two inhabited islets.

Tokelau’s anthropogenic history is a long one, and it is likely that early settlers of Tokelau came from Samoa, Rarotonga and Tuvalu. Tokelau is now an external territory of New Zealand, and has close links with Samoa; movement of goods and people between Tokelau, Samoa and New Zealand is the major pathway for ant introductions to Tokelau.

The invasive yellow crazy ant, Anoplolepis gracilipes, recently underwent a population explosion on two of the three atolls, where it thrived on honeydew-producing insects on papaya and banana trees, and changed the composition of the invertebrate fauna. Infestations of scale insects were so bad that they rendered most of the fruit inedible, and locals took to burning vegetation to rid the area of ants. The density of A. gracilipes has now declined due to a combination of tropical cyclone Percy, a toxic baiting program, and cultural practices by locals. Tokelau’s ant fauna highlights how vulnerable even remote Pacific islands are to invasion and impacts by some of the world’s worst invasive species.

The list of species presented here includes records from previously published studies as well as collections in Abbot's 2006 The ants of Tokelau (New Zealand Journal of Zoology 33:157-164)

Kirsti Abbott
Tokelau Ant Curator