“Hollow internodes permit a Neotropical understory plant to shelter multiple mutualistic ant species, obtaining protection and nutrient provisioning (myrmecotrophy)”

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Alain Dejean, Frédéric Petitclerc, Arthur Compin, Frédéric Azémar, Bruno Corbara, Jacques H. C. Delabie, and Céline Leroy

Biotic protection and nutrient provisioning by sheltered ants in a Neotropical gentian: a non-specialized myrmecophyte

Abstract

The Neotropical understory plant Tachia guianensis (Gentianaceae), known to shelter the colonies of several ant species in its hollow trunks and branches, does not provide them with food rewards (e.g., extrafloral nectar). We tested if these ants are opportunistic nesters or if mutualistic relationships exist as for myrmecophytes or plants sheltering ant colonies in specialized hollow structures in exchange for protection from enemies and/or nutrient provisioning (myrmecotrophy). We noted 37 ant species sheltering inside T. guianensis internodes, three of them accounting for 43.5% of the cases. They protect their host plants from leaf-cutting ant defoliation and termite damage since individuals devoid of associated ants suffered significantly more attacks. Using the stable isotope nitrogen-15, we experimentally showed that the tested ant species furnish their host plants with nutrients. Therefore, a mutualism exists. However, because it is associated with numerous ant species, T. guianensis can be considered a “non-specialized myrmecophyte.” Read the Article