Insectes Sociaux

, 56:405

Does the availability of arboreal honeydew determine the prevalence of ecologically dominant ants in restored habitats?

Research Article

DOI: 10.1007/s00040-009-0038-9

Cite this article as:
Gibb, H. & Cunningham, S.A. Insect. Soc. (2009) 56: 405. doi:10.1007/s00040-009-0038-9


Ants are extensive users of arboreal sugars, but little is known about how ecological dominance or habitat succession influences this interaction. We investigated how the availability and use of arboreal sugar resources by ants changes across a restoration chronosequence. We surveyed the use and availability of hemipteran honeydew and floral nectar on the two dominant plant genera, Eucalyptus and Acacia, in study sites in south eastern Australia. Sugars used by ants are likely to drive their role as ecosystem engineers, while sugars not used by ants remain available to other organisms. We also tested whether the use of sugars differed between ecologically dominant and non-dominant ants; taxa likely to perform different functions in ecosystems. No floral nectar was available on Acacia, but later successional eucalypts supported more floral resources and fewer mutualist hemiptera. Successional stage significantly affected how much sugar remained unexploited by ants, with similar trends for ant use of sugars. Non-dominant ants used mainly floral nectar, while hemipteran honeydew resources were used disproportionately by dominant ants, consistent with the prediction that this group monopolises persistent carbohydrate resources. This pattern was similar across successional stages, but the difference was least in habitats with the greatest availability of floral nectar, suggesting that high sugar availability may reduce the incentive to defend honeydew. Across habitat types, the proportion of dominant ants increased with the availability of hemipteran honeydew. This suggests that honeydew availability may regulate ecological dominance, thus affecting ant-driven ecosystem processes.


Ant–hemiptera mutualismsArboreal sugarsFloral nectarHoneydewDominant antsRestoration chronosequence

Copyright information

© Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel/Switzerland 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CSIRO EntomologyCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Department of ZoologyLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia