Oecologia

, Volume 138, Issue 4, pp 558–565 | Cite as

Interspecific variation in the defensive responses of obligate plant-ants: experimental tests and consequences for herbivory

  • Emilio M. Bruna
  • David M. Lapola
  • Heraldo L. Vasconcelos
Plant Animal Interactions

Abstract

The aggressive behavior of ants that protect plants from herbivores in exchange for rewards such as shelter or food is thought to be an important form of biotic defense against herbivory, particularly in tropical systems. To date, however, no one has compared the defensive responses of different ant taxa associated with the same plant species, and attempted to relate these differences to longer-term efficacy of ant defense. We used experimental cues associated with herbivory—physical damage and extracts of chemical volatiles from leaf tissue—to compare the aggressive responses of two ant species obligately associated with the Amazonian myrmecophyte Tococa bullifera (Melastomataceae). We also conducted a colony removal experiment to quantify the level of resistance from herbivores provided to plants by each ant species. Our experiments demonstrate that some cues eliciting a strong response from one ant species elicited no response by the other. For cues that do elicit responses, the magnitude of these responses can vary interspecifically. These patterns were consistent with the level of resistance provided from herbivores to plants. The colony removal experiment showed that both ant species defend plants from herbivores: however, herbivory was higher on plants colonized by the less aggressive ant species. Our results add to the growing body of literature indicating defensive ant responses are stimulated by cues associated with herbivory. However, they also suggest the local and regional variation in the composition of potential partner taxa could influence the ecology and evolution of defensive mutualisms in ways that have previously remained unexplored.

Keywords

Azteca Crematogaster laevis Myrmecophytes Mutualism Tococa bullifera 

Notes

Acknowledgements

We would like to thank N. Underwood, P. Ward, D. Davidson, J. Rudgers, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful discussions and comments on the manuscript and J.M.S. Vilhena for help with ant identifications. The Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project provided logistical support; permission to conduct the research was provided by the Manaus Free Trade Zone Authority (SUFRAMA). Financial support was provided by an NSF Minority Postdoctoral Fellowship, the NSF AMERICAS program, the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (E.M.B.), the SUNY-BDFFP Internship Program (D.M.L.), and the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (H.L.V.). This is publication number 414 in the BDFFP Technical Series and FAES Publication number R-09881.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emilio M. Bruna
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  • David M. Lapola
    • 3
    • 5
  • Heraldo L. Vasconcelos
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Wildlife Ecology and ConservationUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Tropical Conservation and Development ProgramUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Departamento de EcologiaUniversidade Estadual PaulistaRio ClaroBrazil
  4. 4.Instituto de BiologiaUniversidade Federal de UberlândiaUberlândiaBrazil
  5. 5.Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments ProjectINPA-PDBFF ManausBrazil

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