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The effect of symbiotic ant colonies on plant growth: A test using an Azteca-Cecropia system

AuthorsOliveira, Karla N.; Coley, Phyllis D.; Kursar, Thomas A.; Kaminski, Lucas A.; Moreira, Marcelo Z.; Campos, Ricardo I.
Issue Date26-Mar-2015
PublisherPublic Library of Science
CitationPLoS ONE 10(3): e0120351 (2015)
AbstractIn studies of ant-plant mutualisms, the role that ants play in increasing the growth rates of their plant partners is potentially a key beneficial service. In the field, we measured the growth of Cecropia glaziovii saplings and compared individuals that were naturally colonized by Azteca muelleri ants with uncolonized plants in different seasons (wet and dry). We also measured light availability as well as attributes that could be influenced by the presence of Azteca colonies, such as herbivory, leaf nutrients (total nitrogen and δ15N), and investments in defense (total phenolics and leaf mass per area). We found that colonized plants grew faster than uncolonized plants and experienced a lower level of herbivory in both the wet and dry seasons. Colonized plants had higher nitrogen content than uncolonized plants, although the δ15N, light environment, total phenolics and leaf mass per area, did not differ between colonized and uncolonized plants. Since colonized and uncolonized plants did not differ in the direct defenses that we evaluated, yet herbivory was lower in colonized plants, we conclude that biotic defenses were the most effective protection against herbivores in our system. This result supports the hypothesis that protection provided by ants is an important factor promoting plant growth. Since C. glaziovii is widely distributed among a variety of forests and ecotones, and since we demonstrated a strong relationship with their ant partners, this system can be useful for comparative studies of ant-plant interactions in different habitats. Also, given this study was carried out near the transition to the subtropics, these results help generalize the geographic distribution of this mutualism and may shed light on the persistence of the interactions in the face of climate change. © 2015 Oliveira et al.
Publisher version (URL)http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0120351
Identifiersdoi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120351
issn: 1932-6203
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