Ants at plant wounds - A little-known trophic interaction with evolutionary implications for ant-plant interactions

Created at: 2015-09-28

Initial title: Feeding on plant wounds: An underestimated ressource for ant nutrition?

Envisaged journal: American Naturalist

Envisaged date: 2017-01-13


Extrafloral nectaries (EFNs) allow plants to engage in mutualisms with ants preventing herbivory in exchange for food. EFNs occur scattered through the plant phylogeny and likely evolved independently from herbivore-created wounds subsequently visited by ants collecting leaked sap. Records of wound-feeding ants are, however, anecdotal. By surveying 38,000 trees from 40 species, we conduct the first quantitative ecological study of this overlooked behavior. Ant-wound interactions were widespread (0.5% of tree individuals) and occurred on 23 tree species. Interaction networks were opportunistic, closely resembling ant-EFNs networks. Fagaceae, a family lacking EFNs, were strongly overrepresented. For Fagaceae, ant occurrence at wounds correlated with species-level leaf damage, potentially indicating that wounds may attract mutualistic ants, supporting the hypothesis of ant-tended wounds as precursors of ant-EFNs mutualisms. Given the commonness of herbivore wounds, wound sap as steadily available food source might furthermore help to explain the overwhelming abundance of ants in (sub)tropical forest canopies.

Datasets (2)

Calculated Authors

Michael Staab Nico Blüthgen Felix Fornoff Alexandra-Maria Klein Helge Bruelheide, Prof. Karin Nadrowski Karsten Schmidt Gunnar Seidler

Data request state

Preparation Project Board Data Requests Finished