Temporal Variation in the Abundance and Richness of Foliage-Dwelling Ants Mediated by Extrafloral Nectar.
ABSTRACT: Plants bearing extrafloral nectaries (EFNs) are common in the Brazilian cerrado savanna, where climatic conditions having marked seasonality influence arboreal ant fauna organization. These ant-plant interactions have rarely been studied at community level. Here, we tested whether: 1) EFN-bearing plants are more visited by ants than EFN-lacking plants; 2) ant visitation is higher in the rainy season than in dry season; 3) plants producing young leaves are more visited than those lacking young leaves in the rainy season; 4) during the dry season, plants with old leaves and flowers are more visited than plants with young leaves and bare of leaves or flowers; 5) the composition of visiting ant fauna differs between plants with and without EFNs. Field work was done in a cerrado reserve near Uberlândia, MG State, Brazil, along ten transects (total area 3,000 m2), in the rainy (October-January) and dry seasons (April-July) of 2010-2011. Plants (72 species; 762 individuals) were checked three times per season for ant presence. Results showed that 21 species (29%) and 266 individuals (35%) possessed EFNs. These plants attracted 38 ant species (36 in rainy, 26 in dry season). In the rainy season, plants with EFNs had higher ant abundance/richness than plants without EFNs, but in the dry season, EFN presence did not influence ant visitation. Plant phenology affected ant richness and abundance in different ways: plants with young leaves possessed higher ant richness in the rainy season, but in the dry season ant abundance was higher on plants possessing old leaves or flowers. The species composition of plant-associated ant communities, however, did not differ between plants with and without EFNs in either season. These findings suggest that the effect of EFN presence on a community of plant-visiting ants is context dependent, being conditioned to seasonal variation.
Project description:BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Plants display a wide range of traits that allow them to use animals for vital tasks. To attract and reward aggressive ants that protect developing leaves and flowers from consumers, many plants bear extrafloral nectaries (EFNs). EFNs are exceptionally diverse in morphology and locations on a plant. In this study the evolution of EFN diversity is explored by focusing on the legume genus Senna, in which EFNs underwent remarkable morphological diversification and occur in over 80 % of the approx. 350 species. METHODS: EFN diversity in location, morphology and plant ontogeny was characterized in wild and cultivated plants, using scanning electron microscopy and microtome sectioning. From these data EFN evolution was reconstructed in a phylogenetic framework comprising 83 Senna species. KEY RESULTS: Two distinct kinds of EFNs exist in two unrelated clades within Senna. 'Individualized' EFNs (iEFNs), located on the compound leaves and sometimes at the base of pedicels, display a conspicuous, gland-like nectary structure, are highly diverse in shape and characterize the species-rich EFN clade. Previously overlooked 'non-individualized' EFNs (non-iEFNs) embedded within stipules, bracts, and sepals are cryptic and may represent a new synapomorphy for clade II. Leaves bear EFNs consistently throughout plant ontogeny. In one species, however, early seedlings develop iEFNs between the first pair of leaflets, but later leaves produce them at the leaf base. This ontogenetic shift reflects our inferred diversification history of iEFN location: ancestral leaves bore EFNs between the first pair of leaflets, while leaves derived from them bore EFNs either between multiple pairs of leaflets or at the leaf base. CONCLUSIONS: EFNs are more diverse than previously thought. EFN-bearing plant parts provide different opportunities for EFN presentation (i.e. location) and individualization (i.e. morphology), with implications for EFN morphological evolution, EFN-ant protective mutualisms and the evolutionary role of EFNs in plant diversification.
Project description: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.
Project description:Interactions mediated by extrafloral nectary (EFN)-bearing plants that reward ants with a sweet liquid secretion are well documented in temperate and tropical habitats. However, their distribution and abundance in deserts are poorly known. In this study, we test the predictions that biotic interactions between EFN plants and ants are abundant and common also in arid communities and that EFNs are only functional when new vegetative and reproductive structures are developing. In a seasonal desert of northwestern Argentina, we surveyed the richness and phenology of EFN plants and their associated ants and examined the patterns in ant-plant interaction networks. We found that 25 ant species and 11 EFN-bearing plant species were linked together through 96 pairs of associations. Plants bearing EFNs were abundant, representing ca. 19 % of the species encountered in transects and 24 % of the plant cover. Most ant species sampled (ca. 77 %) fed on EF nectar. Interactions showed a marked seasonal pattern: EFN secretion was directly related to plant phenology and correlated with the time of highest ant ground activity. Our results reveal that EFN-mediated interactions are ecologically relevant components of deserts, and that EFN-bearing plants are crucial for the survival of desert ant communities.
Project description:Herbivory is an ecological process that is known to generate different patterns of selection on defensive plant traits across populations. Studies on this topic could greatly benefit from the general framework of the Geographic Mosaic Theory of Coevolution (GMT). Here, we hypothesize that herbivory represents a strong pressure for extrafloral nectary (EFN) bearing plants, with differences in herbivore and ant visitor assemblages leading to different evolutionary pressures among localities and ultimately to differences in EFN abundance and function. In this study, we investigate this hypothesis by analyzing 10 populations of Anemopaegma album (30 individuals per population) distributed through ca. 600 km of Neotropical savanna and covering most of the geographic range of this plant species. A common garden experiment revealed a phenotypic differentiation in EFN abundance, in which field and experimental plants showed a similar pattern of EFN variation among populations. We also did not find significant correlations between EFN traits and ant abundance, herbivory and plant performance across localities. Instead, a more complex pattern of ant-EFN variation, a geographic mosaic, emerged throughout the geographical range of A. album. We modeled the functional relationship between EFNs and ant traits across ant species and extended this phenotypic interface to characterize local situations of phenotypic matching and mismatching at the population level. Two distinct types of phenotypic matching emerged throughout populations: (1) a population with smaller ants (Crematogaster crinosa) matched with low abundance of EFNs; and (2) seven populations with bigger ants (Camponotus species) matched with higher EFN abundances. Three matched populations showed the highest plant performance and narrower variance of EFN abundance, representing potential plant evolutionary hotspots. Cases of mismatched and matched populations with the lowest performance were associated with abundant and highly detrimental herbivores. Our findings provide insights on the ecology and evolution of plant-ant guarding systems, and suggest new directions to research on facultative mutualistic interactions at wide geographic scales.
Project description:Aim. Throughout evolutionary history, plants and animals have evolved alongside one another. This is especially apparent when considering mutualistic relationships such as between plants with extra-floral nectaries (EFNs, glands on leaves or stems that secrete nectar) and the ants that visit them. Ants are attracted by the nectar and then protect the plant against destructive herbivores. The distribution of these plants is of particular interest, because it can provide insights into the evolutionary history of this unique trait and the plants that possess it. In this study, we investigated factors driving the distribution of woody plants with EFNs in the cerrado vegetation of Brazil. Location. Brazil Methods. We used a database detailing the incidence of 849 plant species at 367 cerrado sites throughout Brazil. We determined which species possessed EFNs and mapped their distributions. We tested for correlations between the proportion of EFN species at each site and (i) three environmental variables (mean annual temperature, mean annual precipitation, and the precipitation in the driest quarter of the year), (ii) a broad soil classification, and (iii) the total species diversity of each site. Results. We found a wide range in the proportion of EFN species at any one site (0-57%). However, whilst low diversity sites had wide variation in the number of EFN species, high diversity sites all had few EFN species. The proportion of EFN species was positively correlated with absolute latitude and negatively correlated with longitude. When accounting for total species diversity, the proportion of EFN species per site was negatively correlated with precipitation in the driest quarter of the year and positively correlated with temperature range. Main Conclusions. These results suggest either that herbivore pressure may be lower in drier sites, or that ants are not as dominant in these locations, or that plant lineages at these sites were unable to evolve EFNs.
Project description:Plants in more than 100 families secrete extrafloral nectar (EFN) to establish food-for-protection mutualisms with ants. Facultative ant-plants secrete EFN as a jasmonic acid (JA)-dependent response to attract generalist ants. In contrast, obligate ant-plants like the Central American "Swollen-Thorn Acacias" are colonized by specialized ants, although an individual host can carry ant colonies from different species that differ in the degree of protection they provide. We hypothesized that hosts that associate simultaneously with various partners should produce rewards in a modular manner to preferentially reward high quality partners. To test this hypothesis, we applied JA to distinct leaves and quantified cell wall invertase activity (CWIN; a regulator of nectar secretion) and EFN secretion by these "local" (i.e., treated) and the "systemic" (i.e., non-treated) leaves of the same branch. Both CWIN activity and EFN secretion increased in local and systemic leaves of the facultative ant-plant Acacia cochliacantha, but only in the local leaves of the obligate ant-plant, A. cornigera. The systemic EFN secretion in A. cochliacantha was associated with an enhanced emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Such VOCs function as "external signals" that control systemic defense responses in diverse plant species. Indeed, the headspace of JA-treated branches of A. cochliacantha induced EFN secretion in both plant species, whereas the headspace of A. cornigera caused no detectable induction effect. Analyses of the headspace using GC-MS identified six VOCs in the headspace of A. cochliacantha that were not emitted by A. cornigera. Among these VOCs, ?-caryophyllene and (cis)-hexenyl isovalerate have already been reported in other plant species to induce defense traits, including EFN secretion. Our observations underline the importance of VOCs as systemic within-plant signals and show that the modular rewarding in A. cornigera is likely to result from a reduced emission of the systemic signal, rather than from a reduced responsiveness to the signal. We suggest that modular rewarding allows hosts to restrict the metabolic investment to specific partners and to efficiently sanction potential exploiters.
Project description:The number of plants pollinated by ants is surprisingly low given the abundance of ants and the fact that they are common visitors of angiosperms. Generally ants are considered as nectar robbers that do not provide pollination service. We studied the pollination system of the endangered dry grassland forb Euphorbia seguieriana and found two ant species to be the most frequent visitors of its flowers. Workers of Formica cunicularia carried five times more pollen than smaller Tapinoma erraticum individuals, but significantly more viable pollen was recovered from the latter. Overall, the viability of pollen on ant cuticles was significantly lower (p < 0.001)-presumably an antibiotic effect of the metapleural gland secretion. A marking experiment suggested that ants were unlikely to facilitate outcrossing as workers repeatedly returned to the same individual plant. In open pollinated plants and when access was given exclusively to flying insects, fruit set was nearly 100%. In plants visited by ants only, roughly one third of flowers set fruit, and almost none set fruit when all insects were excluded. The germination rate of seeds from flowers pollinated by flying insects was 31 ± 7% in contrast to 1 ± 1% resulting from ant pollination. We conclude that inbreeding depression may be responsible for the very low germination rate in ant pollinated flowers and that ants, although the most frequent visitors, play a negligible or even deleterious role in the reproduction of E. seguieriana. Our study reiterates the need to investigate plant fitness effects beyond seed set in order to confirm ant-plant mutualisms.
Project description:Background:Ecological communities of interacting species analyzed as complex networks have shown that species dependence on their counterparts is more complex than expected at random. As for other potentially mutualistic interactions, ant-plant networks mediated by extrafloral nectar show a nested (asymmetric) structure with a core of generalist species dominating the interaction pattern. Proposed factors structuring ecological networks include encounter probability (e.g., species abundances and habitat heterogeneity), behavior, phylogeny, and body size. While the importance of underlying factors that influence the structure of ant-plant networks have been separately explored, the simultaneous contribution of several biological and ecological attributes inherent to the species, guild or habitat level has not been addressed. Methods:For a tropical seasonal site we recorded (in 48 censuses) the frequency of pairwise ant-plant interactions mediated by extrafloral nectaries (EFN) on different habitats and studied the resultant network structure. We addressed for the first time the role of mechanistic versus neutral determinants at the 'fine-grain' structure (pairwise interactions) of ant-plant networks. We explore the simultaneous contribution of several attributes of plant and ant species (i.e., EFN abundance and distribution, ant head length, behavioral dominance and invasive status), and habitat attributes (i.e., vegetation structure) in prevailing interactions as well as in overall network topology (community). Results:Our studied network was highly-nested and non-modular, with core species having high species strengths (higher strength values for ants than plants) and low specialization. Plants had higher dependences on ants than vice versa. We found that habitat heterogeneity in vegetation structure (open vs. shaded habitats) was the main factor explaining network and fine-grain structure, with no evidence of neutral (abundance) effects. Discussion:Core ant species are relevant to most plants species at the network showing adaptations to nectar consumption and deterrent behavior. Thus larger ants interact with more plant species which, together with higher dependence of plants on ants, suggests potential biotic defense at a community scale. In our study site, heterogeneity in the ant-plant interactions among habitats is so prevalent that it emerges at community-level structural properties. High frequency of morphologically diverse and temporarily-active EFNs in all habitats suggests the relevance and seasonality of plant biotic defense provided by ants. The robust survey of ecological interactions and their biological/ecological correlates that we addressed provides insight of the interplay between adaptive-value traits and neutral effects in ecological networks.
Project description:BACKGROUND AND AIMS:Photosynthetic thermotolerance (PT) is important for plant survival in tropical and sub-tropical savannas. However, little is known about thermotolerance of tropical and sub-tropical wild plants and its association with leaf phenology and persistence. Longer-lived leaves of savanna plants may experience a higher risk of heat stress. Foliar Ca is related to cell integrity of leaves under stresses. In this study it is hypothesized that (1) species with leaf flushing in the hot-dry season have greater PT than those with leaf flushing in the rainy season; and (2) PT correlates positively with leaf life span, leaf mass per unit area (LMA) and foliar Ca concentration ([Ca]) across woody savanna species. METHODS:The temperature-dependent increase in minimum fluorescence was measured to assess PT, together with leaf dynamics, LMA and [Ca] for a total of 24 woody species differing in leaf flushing time in a valley-type savanna in south-west China. KEY RESULTS:The PT of the woody savanna species with leaf flushing in the hot-dry season was greater than that of those with leaf flushing in the rainy season. Thermotolerance was positively associated with leaf life span and [Ca] for all species irrespective of the time of flushing. The associations of PT with leaf life span and [Ca] were evolutionarily correlated. Thermotolerance was, however, independent of LMA. CONCLUSIONS:Chinese savanna woody species are adapted to hot-dry habitats. However, the current maximum leaf temperature during extreme heat stress (44·3 °C) is close to the critical temperature of photosystem II (45·2 °C); future global warming may increase the risk of heat damage to the photosynthetic apparatus of Chinese savanna species.
Project description:Abiotic environmental variables strongly affect the outcomes of species interactions. For example, mutualistic interactions between species are often stronger when resources are limited. The effect might be indirect: water stress on plants can lead to carbon stress, which could alter carbon-mediated plant mutualisms. In mutualistic ant-plant symbioses, plants host ant colonies that defend them against herbivores. Here we show that the partners' investments in a widespread ant-plant symbiosis increase with water stress across 26 sites along a Mesoamerican precipitation gradient. At lower precipitation levels, Cordia alliodora trees invest more carbon in Azteca ants via phloem-feeding scale insects that provide the ants with sugars, and the ants provide better defense of the carbon-producing leaves. Under water stress, the trees have smaller carbon pools. A model of the carbon trade-offs for the mutualistic partners shows that the observed strategies can arise from the carbon costs of rare but extreme events of herbivory in the rainy season. Thus, water limitation, together with the risk of herbivory, increases the strength of a carbon-based mutualism.