, Volume 166, Issue 2, pp 189-198

Seed predators are undeterred by nectar-feeding ants on Chamaecrista nictitans (Caesalpineaceae)

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Abstract

There are many examples of mutualistic interactions between ants and plants bearing extrafloral nectaries (EFN). The annual legume Chamaecrista nictitans (Caesalpineaceae) secretes nectar from EFN, specialized structures that attract ants, spiders, and other arthropods. The effects of manipulated C. nictitans patch size and location on plant-ant interactions were tested. Defense from herbivores was not detected; plants with ants did not set significantly more fruit or seed than plants with ants excluded. On the contrary, in one year, plants without ants set more fruit and seed than C. nictitans with ants. The cause of this was not determined. Furthermore, insect herbivore damage was low during three years of observations. Sennius cruentatus (Bruchidae), a specialist seed predator beetle, escaped ant defense despite the presence of numerous ants. Beetle progeny are protected during development by living inside maturing C. nictitans fruit and preventing fruits from dehiscing before emerging as adults. Although ants reduced percent of infestation in 1995, the total number of S. cruentatus per plant was not affected by ants in years of infestation. Overall, larger experimental C. nictitans patches attracted more ants, parasitoid wasps, and percent infestation by S. cruentatus while insect herbivores declined with increasing patch size. Location of patches within fields, however, did not affect numbers of arthropod visitors. Similar to manipulated populations, very little insect herbivory occurred in four reference populations. In contrast to the experimental populations, no S. cruentatus were recovered in reference populations of C. nictitans. Herbivory by insects may not always depress seed set by C. nictitans or may not exceed a threshold level. Thus, herbivory-reduction by ants may not have been detectable in these results. Seed predation may be more influential on C. nictitans reproduction.

This revised version was published online in August 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.