Predation and aggressiveness in host plant protection: a generalization using ants from the genus Azteca
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.
KeywordsAggressiveness Ant–plant relationships Biotic defence Predation
We are grateful to Jacques H.C. Delabie, Roy R. Snelling and John T. Longino for the identification of different samples of our ants, and to Andrea Dejean for proofreading the manuscript. This work was supported by the Programme Amazonie II of the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (project 2ID) and the Programme Convergence 2007–2013, Région Guyane from the European Community (project DEGA).
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