Ants provide nutritional and defensive benefits to the carnivorous plant Sarracenia minor
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Ants can have important, but sometimes unexpected, effects on the plants they associate with. For carnivorous plants, associating with ants may provide defensive benefits in addition to nutritional ones. We examined the effects of increased ant visitation and exclusion of insect prey from pitchers of the hooded pitcher plant Sarracenia minor, which has been hypothesized to be an ant specialist. Visitation by ants was increased by placing PVC pipes in the ground immediately adjacent to 16 of 32 pitcher plants, which created nesting/refuge sites. Insects were excluded from all pitchers of 16 of the plants by occluding the pitchers with cotton. Treatments were applied in a 2 × 2 factorial design in order to isolate the hypothesized defensive benefits from nutritional ones. We recorded visitation by ants, the mean number of ants captured, foliar nitrogen content, plant growth and size, and levels of herbivory by the pitcher plant mining moth Exyra semicrocea. Changes in ant visitation and prey capture significantly affected nitrogen content, plant height, and the number of pitchers per plant. Increased ant visitation independent of prey capture reduced herbivory and pitcher mortality, and increased the number of pitchers per plant. Results from this study show that the hooded pitcher plant derives a double benefit from attracting potential prey that are also capable of providing defense against herbivory.
KeywordsAnt-plant associations Carnivory Exyra semicrocea Indirect defense Pitcher plant
This project was funded by the Coastal Biology Program at the University of North Florida. The manuscript was significantly improved by the comments of Peter Stiling and three anonymous reviewers.
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