Extrafloral nectary-bearing plant Mallotus japonicus uses different types of extrafloral nectaries to establish effective defense by ants
Extrafloral nectary (EFN)-bearing plants attract ants to gain protection against herbivores. Some EFN-bearing plants possess different types of EFNs, which might have different effects on ants on the plants. Mallotus japonicus (Thunb.) Muell. Arg. (Euphorbiaceae) bears two types of EFNs, including a pair of large EFNs at the leaf base and many small EFNs along the leaf edge. This study aimed to determine the different roles of the two types of EFNs in biotic defense by ants. A field experiment was conducted to investigate the effect of leaf damage on EFN production and on the distribution pattern of ants. After leaf damage, the number of leaf edge EFNs increased in the leaves first-produced. The number of ants on the leaves also increased, and the foraging area of ants extended from the leaf base to the leaf tip. An EFN-covering field experiment revealed that leaf edge EFNs had a greater effect than leaf base EFNs on ant dispersal on leaves. The extended foraging area of ants resulted in an increase of encounter or attack rate against an experimentally placed herbivore, Spodoptera litura. These results suggest that M. japonicus plants control the foraging area of ants on their leaves using different types of EFNs in response to leaf damage, thus achieving a very effective biotic defense against herbivores by ants.
KeywordsAnt–plant mutualism Biotic defense EFN Induced defense Leaf damage
We thank N. Katayama and K. Tanaka for useful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported in part by a research fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science for Young Scientists (234305 and 251712).