Herbivory-induced extrafloral nectar increases native and invasive ant worker survival
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Ascertaining the costs and benefits of mutualistic interactions is important for predicting their stability and effect on community dynamics. Despite widespread designation of the interaction between ants and extrafloral nectaries (EFNs) as a mutualism and over 100 years of studies on ant benefits to plants, the benefits to ants have never been experimentally quantified. The success of invasive ants is thought to be linked to the availability of carbohydrate-rich resources, though reports of invasive ant visits to EFNs are mixed. In two laboratory experiments, we compared worker survival of one native (Iridomyrmex chasei) and two invasive ant species (Linepithema humile and Pheidole megacephala) exposed to herbivorized or non-herbivorized EFN-bearing plants (Acacia saligna) or positive and negative controls. We found that non-herbivorized plants did not produce any measurable extrafloral nectar, and ants with access to non-herbivorized plants had the same survival as ants with access to an artificial plant and water (unfed ants). Ants given herbivorized plants had 7–11 times greater worker survival relative to unfed ants, but there were no differences in survival between native and invasive ants exposed to herbivorized plants. Our results reveal that ants cannot induce A. saligna extrafloral nectar production, but workers of both native and invasive ant species can benefit from extrafloral nectar as much as they benefit from sucrose.
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