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Indirect mutualism: ants protect fig seeds and pollen dispersers from parasites
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Biology, Department of Ecology and Genetics, Plant Ecology and Evolution. Yale Univ, Dept Ecol & Evolutionary Biol, New Haven, CT USA. Smithsonian Trop Res Inst, Panama City, Panama..
2015 (English)In: Ecological Entomology, ISSN 0307-6946, E-ISSN 1365-2311, Vol. 40, no 5, 500-510 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

1. Mutualisms are ubiquitous and ecologically important, but may be particularly vulnerable to exploitation by species outside of the mutualism owing to a combination of an attractive reward and potentially limited defence options. For some mutualisms, ants can offer dynamic and relatively selective protection against herbivores and parasites. 2. The mutualism between fig trees and their pollinating wasps, a keystone mutualism in tropical forests, is particularly well suited for ant protection because pollinators are protected inside hollow inflorescences but parasites are exposed on the outside. 3. In the present study, it was shown that the presence of ants provides a fitness benefit for both the pollinators and the hosting fig tree. The presence of ants (i) reduced abortions of developing figs, (ii) reduced herbivory of figs, and (iii) reduced parasitic wasp loads, resulting in more pollinators and more seeds in ant-protected figs. Even when taking costs such as ant predation on emerging pollinators into account, the total fitness increase of hosting ants was threefold for the tree and fivefold for the pollinators. 4. It was further shown that the seemingly most vulnerable parasitic wasps, of the genus Idarnes, have a specific behaviour that allows them to evade ant attack while continuing to oviposit. 5. Ants were present on 79% of surveyed Panamanian fig trees. Together with previous studies from the Old World, the results found here imply that ants are both powerful and common protectors of the fig mutualism worldwide.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 40, no 5, 500-510 p.
Keyword [en]
Agaonidae, ant-plant, Ficus, species interaction, trophic relationship
National Category
Biological Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-264030DOI: 10.1111/een.12215ISI: 000361008500002OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-264030DiVA: diva2:859413
Available from: 2015-10-07 Created: 2015-10-05 Last updated: 2015-10-07Bibliographically approved

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