, Volume 96, Issue 1, pp 57-63
Date: 03 Oct 2008

Predation and aggressiveness in host plant protection: a generalization using ants from the genus Azteca

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In studying the ant genus Azteca, a Neotropical group of arboreal species, we aimed to determine the extent to which the ants use predation and/or aggressiveness to protect their host plants from defoliating insects. We compared a territorially dominant, carton-nester, Azteca chartifex, and three plant-ant species. Azteca alfari and Azteca ovaticeps are associated with the myrmecophyte Cecropia (Cecropiaceae) and their colonies shelter in its hollow branches; whereas Azteca bequaerti is associated with Tococa guianensis (Melastomataceae) and its colonies shelter in leaf pouches situated at the base of the laminas. Whereas A. bequaerti workers react to the vibrations transmitted by the lamina when an alien insect lands on a leaf making it unnecessary for them to patrol their plant, the workers of the three other species rather discover prey by contact. The workers of all four species use a predatory behaviour involving spread-eagling alien insects after recruiting nestmates at short range, and, in some cases, at long range. Because A. alfari and A. ovaticeps discard part of the insects they kill, we deduced that the workers’ predatory behaviour and territorial aggressiveness combine in the biotic defence of their host tree.

Communicated by J. Heinze.