Ant-hemipteran trophobioses in a Bornean rainforest – diversity, specificity and monopolisation
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Trophobiotic interactions between ants, hemipterans and plants play an important role for all three partners. This study compared a broad spectrum of trophobiotic associations in a tropical rainforest in Sabah, Borneo. We studied partner specificity, ant recruitment, temporal continuity and monopolisation in 218 trophobioses, comprising 58 ant species, 62 hemipteran and over 31 plant species. The most common associations involved Dinochloa trichogona (Poaceae) with coreids and delphacids in the forest understorey, and the invasive weed Chromolaena odorata (Asteraceae) with Aphis gossypii and A. spiraeola in the open vegetation; both associations were attended by a broad spectrum of ant species. In general, associations between hemipterans and plants were highly and significantly specialised, while ants were more opportunistic in their choices of partners, although partitioning was also significant between ant versus hemipteran species and consequently between ant versus plant species. The number of ant workers increased significantly, but at a declining rate, with the number of hemipterans at a trophobiosis. Most trophobioses (96%) were only tended by a single ant species at a time and thus effectively monopolised. Occasionally these guards were replaced by another ant species after a few weeks (11%) or during the night (34%). In order to test whether other sugar-seeking ants as potential competitors occurred in the vicinity of trophobioses, sugar baits were placed next to the trophobioses, on a different branch of the same plant, and on a neighbouring plant. While the hemipteran-tending ant colony mostly monopolised the nearest sugar bait, the number of ant species on more distant baits was significantly higher. Our results show that ant associations with honeydew-producing hemipterans may be relatively opportunistic at the community level, but highly predictable on a smaller spatio-temporal scale in respect to recruitment to, and long term securing of this important resource.
Keywords.Formicidae Hemiptera mutualism tritrophic interaction networks tropical rainforests
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