, Volume 106, Issue 1, pp 127–136 | Cite as

The influence of ants on patterns of colonization and establishment within a set of coexisting lycaenid butterflies in a south-east Asian tropical rain forest

  • Peter Seufert
  • Konrad Fiedler
Community Ecology


In Peninsular Malaysia ten species of lycaenid butterflies use leaf flushes or inflorescences of the legume tree Saraca thaipingensis as larval hostplant. Resource partitioning among these species is regulated by a complex mixture of patterns of interaction with ants. Females of obligately myrmecophilous species lay their eggs exclusively on trees colonized by their specific host ants. On trees colonized by weaver ants, only specialist mutualists adapted to these territorial ants are able to survive, while larvae of other species are killed. The formicine ant Cladomyrma petalae, which inhabits hollow twigs of the myrmecophytic hostplant, likewise precludes oviposition by female butterflies. Lycaenid larvae confronted with this ant species never survive, but one concealed feeding species (Jamides caeruleus) escapes removal due to the cryptic life-habits of the larvae. Two facultative myrmecophiles associate in a mutualistic way with a wide and largely overlapping range of ant genera which forage at the extrafloral nectaries of leaf flushes. One species (Cheritra freja) is not myrmecophilous, but is tolerated by all but the most territorial ants. Ant-dependent hostplant selection and egg-clustering characterize the obligate mutualists, whereas facultative myrmecophiles and the non-myrmecophile distribute their eggs singly over appropriate hostplants. Signals mediating caterpillar-ant communication are highly specialized in one obligate myrmecophile (Drupadia theda), but rather unspecific in four other species tested. Altogether our observations indicate that colonization and establishment of lycaenid butterflies on S. thaipingensis trees are governed by specializations as well as opportunistic use of resources (ants and hostplant parts). Therefore, the diversity of this species assemblage is maintained by deterministic as well as stochastic factors.

Key words

Ant-plant relationships Butterfly-ant mutualisms Butterfly communities Hostplant relationships Diversity 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Seufert
    • 1
  • Konrad Fiedler
    • 1
  1. 1.Lehrstuhl für Verhaltensphysiologie und SoziobiologieTheodor-Boveri-Biozentrum der UniversitätWurzburgGermany

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