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Thorn-dwelling ants provide antiherbivore defence for camelthorn trees, Vachellia erioloba, in Namibia

Campbell, H., Townsend, I. R., Fellowes, M. D. E. ORCID: and Cook, J. M. (2013) Thorn-dwelling ants provide antiherbivore defence for camelthorn trees, Vachellia erioloba, in Namibia. African Journal of Ecology, 51 (4). pp. 590-598. ISSN 1365-2028

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1111/aje.12070


Ants are widely employed by plants as an antiherbivore defence. A single host plant can associate with multiple, symbiotic ant species, although usually only a single ant species at a time. Different plant-ant species may vary in the degree to which they defend their host plant. In Kenya, ant–acacia interactions are well studied, but less is known about systems elsewhere in Africa. A southern African species, Vachellia erioloba, is occupied by thorn-dwelling ants from three different genera. Unusually, multiple colonies of all these ants simultaneously and stably inhabit trees. We investigated if the ants on V. erioloba (i) deter insect herbivores; (ii) differ in their effectiveness depending on the identity of the herbivore; and (iii) protect the tree against an important herbivore, the larvae of the lepidopteran Gonometa postica. We show that experimental exclusion of ants leads to greater levels of herbivory on trees. The ants inhabiting V. erioloba are an effective deterrent against hemipteran and coleopteran, but not lepidopteran herbivores. Defensive services do not vary among ant species, but only Crematogaster ants exhibit aggression towards G. postica. This highlights the potential of the V. erioloba–ant mutualism for studying ant–plant interactions that involve multiple, simultaneously resident thorn-dwelling ant species.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Life Sciences > School of Biological Sciences > Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
ID Code:30319

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