Conditional outcomes in a neotropical treehopper-ant association: temporal and species-specific variation in ant protection and homopteran fecundity
We studied the association between the honeydew-producing membracid Guayaquila xiphias and its tending ants in the cerrado savanna of Brazil, during 1992 and 1993. Results showed that ants attack potential enemies of G. xiphias, and that increased ant density near the treehoppers affects the spatial distribution of parasitoid wasps on the host plant, keeping them away from brood-guarding G. xiphias females. Controlled ant-exclusion experiments revealed that ant presence (seven species) reduces the abundance of G. xiphias’ natural enemies (salticid spiders, syrphid flies, and parasitoid wasps) on the host plant. The data further showed that ant-tending not only increased homopteran survival, but also conferred a direct reproductive benefit to G. xiphias females, which may abandon the first brood to ants and lay an additional clutch next to the original brood. Two years of experimental manipulations, however, showed that the degree of protection conferred by tending ants varies yearly, and that at initially high abundance of natural enemies the ant species differ in their effects on treehopper survival. Ant effects on treehopper fecundity also varied with time, and with shifts in the abundance of natural enemies. This is the first study to simultaneously demonstrate conditionality in ant-derived benefits related to both protection and fecundity in an ant-tended Membracidae, and the first to show the combined action of these effects in the same system.
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