Density-mediated, context-dependent consumer-resource interactions between ants and extrafloral nectar plants.
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: Density-mediated, context-dependent consumer-resource interactions between ants and extrafloral nectar plants.
: Scott A Chamberlain, J Nathaniel Holland
Abstract : Interspecific interactions are often mediated by the interplay between resource supply and consumer density. The supply of a resource and a consumer's density response to it may in turn yield context-dependent use of other resources. Such consumer-resource interactions occur not only for predator-prey and competitive interactions, but for mutualistic ones as well. For example, consumer-resource interactions between ants and extrafloral nectar (EFN) plants are often mutualistic, as EFN resources attract and reward ants which protect plants from herbivory. Yet, ants also commonly exploit floral resources, leading to antagonistic consumer-resource interactions by disrupting pollination and plant reproduction. EFN resources associated with mutualistic ant-plant interactions may also mediate antagonistic ant-flower interactions through the aggregative density response of ants on plants, which could either exacerbate ant-flower interactions or alternatively satiate and distract ants from floral resources. In this study, we examined how EFN resources mediate the density response of ants on senita cacti in the Sonoran Desert and their context-dependent use of floral resources. Removal of EFN resources reduced the aggregative density of ants on plants, both on hourly and daily time scales. Yet, the increased aggregative ant density on plants with EFN resources decreased rather than increased ant use of floral resources, including contacts with and time spent in flowers. Behavioral assays showed no confounding effect of floral deterrents on ant-flower interactions. Thus, ant use of floral resources depends on the supply of EFN resources, which mediates the potential for both mutualistic and antagonistic interactions by increasing the aggregative density of ants protecting plants, while concurrently distracting ants from floral resources. Nevertheless, only certain years and populations of study showed an increase in plant reproduction through herbivore protection or ant distraction from floral resources. Despite pronounced effects of EFN resources mediating the aggregative density of ants on plants and their context-dependent use of floral resources, consumer-resource interactions remained largely commensalistic.
: animals, ants, ants physiology, cactaceae, cactaceae physiology, ecosystem, feeding behavior, feeding behavior physiology, flowers, flowers physiology, population density
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