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Elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations promote ant tending of aphids

Kremer, J. M. M., Nooten, S. S., Cook, J. M., Ryalls, J. M. W., Barton, C. V. M. and Johnson, S. N. (2018) Elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations promote ant tending of aphids. Journal of Animal Ecology, 87 (5). pp. 1475-1483. ISSN 0021-8790

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12842


1.Animal mutualisms, which involve beneficial interactions between individuals of different species, are common in nature. Insect–insect mutualism, for example, is widely regarded as a keystone ecological interaction. Some mutualisms are anticipated to be modified by climate change, but the focus has largely been on plant–microbe and plant–animal mutualisms rather than those between animals. 2.Ant–aphid mutualisms, whereby ants tend aphids to harvest their honeydew excretions and, in return, provide protection for the aphids, are widespread. The mutualism is heavily influenced by the quality and quantity of honeydew produced by aphids, which is directly affected by host plant quality. As predicted increases in concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide (eCO2) are widely reported to affect plant nutritional chemistry, this may also alter honeydew quality and hence the nature of ant–aphid mutualisms. 3.Using glasshouse chambers and field‐based open‐top chambers, we determined the effect of eCO2 on the growth and nutritional quality (foliar amino acids) of lucerne (Medicago sativa). We determined how cowpea aphid (Aphis craccivora) populations and honeydew production were impacted when feeding on such plants and how this affected the tending behaviour of ants (Iridomyrmex sp.). 4.eCO2 stimulated plant growth but decreased concentrations of foliar amino acids by 29% and 14% on aphid‐infested plants and aphid‐free plants, respectively. Despite the deterioration in host plant quality under eCO2, aphids maintained performance and populations were unchanged by eCO2. Aphids induced higher concentrations of amino acids (glutamine, asparagine, glutamic acid and aspartic acid) important for endosymbiont‐mediated synthesis of essential amino acids. Aphids feeding under eCO2 also produced over three times more honeydew than aphids feeding under ambient CO2, suggesting they were imbibing more phloem sap at eCO2. The frequency of ant tending of aphids more than doubled in response to eCO2. 5.To our knowledge, this is the first study to demonstrate the effects of atmospheric change on an ant–aphid mutualism. In particular, these results highlight how impending changes to concentrations of atmospheric CO2 may alter mutualistic behaviour between animals. These could include positive impacts, as reported here, shifts from mutualism to antagonism, partner switches and mutualism abandonment.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:No Reading authors. Back catalogue items
ID Code:77327
Publisher:British Ecological Society

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