, Volume 140, Issue 4, pp 609-616
Date: 17 Jun 2004

Leaf domatia mediate mutualism between mites and a tropical tree

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Although associations between mites and leaf domatia have been widely reported, their consequences for plants, especially for natural tree populations, particularly in the tropics, are largely unknown. In experiments with paired Cupania vernalis (Sapindaceae) saplings in a semi-deciduous forest in south-east Brazil, we blocked leaf domatia to examine their effect: (1) on mites and other arthropods, and (2) on damage caused by fungi and herbivorous arthropods. In general, plants with resin-blocked domatia had fewer predaceous mites on leaves than control plants with unaltered domatia, but the total abundances of fungivorous and of phytophagous mites remained unchanged. However, phytophagous eriophyid mites, the most numerous inhabitants of domatia, decreased on leaf surfaces with the blocking treatment. In a second experiment, treated plants lacking functional domatia developed significantly greater numbers and areas of chlorosis, apparently due to increased eriophyid attacks, whereas fungal attack, epiphyll abundance and leaf-area loss were unaffected. This seems to be the first experimental study to demonstrate that leaf domatia can benefit plants against herbivory in a natural system. The possible stabilizing effect of leaf domatia on predator-prey interactions is discussed.