Balancing between mutualism and exploitation: the symbiotic interaction between Lasius ants and aphids
Nests of Lasius niger (L.) ants were given varied food regimens to test whether their behaviour towards an aphid partner, Aphis fabae (Scop.), changed with alternative food supplies. Honeydew collection and predation on aphids were measured by video monitoring the movement of ants between their nest and an aphid aggregation. Data collected from the aphid aggregations enabled comparisons between remaining aphid biomass and between the tending intensities of the ants. I tested how ant behaviour was influenced by their access to alternative prey and sugar. The results showed that ants accepted a honey solution as a substitute for the honeydew produced by aphids. Ants not only attended their aphid partners, but also preyed on them. The average predation rate increased eightfold when ants were offered the alternative of sugar, whereas alternative prey had no significant effect. In contrast, ant-tending intensity decreased with alternative sugar whereas alternative prey elicited no effect.
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