, Volume 96, Issue 2, pp 276-281

Species-specific effects of tending ants on the development of lycaenid butterfly larvae

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Abstract

The transfer of nutrients between organisms is a common feature of mutualism. The production of these food rewards is often assumed to be costly. Estimation of the costs of producing food rewards is important for understanding the overall effects of the interaction on fitness. When food rewards are harvested by several species differing in foraging behavior, costs to the producer may differ. The larvae of many species in the butterfly family Lycaenidae produce secretions consumed by tending ants. Here I report that three North American ant species, Formica perpilosa, Dorymyrmex sp. (smithi complex), and Forelius foetida, had no negative effect on the duration of development and adult size of the lycaenid Hemiargus isola. Moreover, tending by the ant Formica perpilosa significantly enhanced larval growth, resulting in butterflies that were 20% heavier than their untended counterparts. Tending by the ants Dorymyrmex sp. (smithi complex) and Forelius foetida had no effect on butterfly weight. Tended, nonfeeding larvae lost 69% more weight than untended, nonfeeding larvae. Taken together, the results suggest that, although ant tending imposes a physiological cost, H. isola larvae use behavioral or physiological mechanisms to compensate or overcompensate for nutrients lost to ants.