Leaf damage induces ant recruitment in the Amazonian ant-plant Hirtella myrmecophila
Allomerus octoarticulatus is a plant-ant that colonizes domatia of the understorey tree Hirtella myrmecophila in the Central Amazon and forages for invertebrates, including leaf herbivores, on the host plant. We conducted manipulative experiments to study the ant's recruitment response to damaged leaves and leaf extracts of the host and to extracts of Protium hebetatum, a non-myrmecophytic sympatric tree species. Artificial damage to leaves of H. myrmecophila caused an increase in the number of recruits to the leaf. Ant response was stronger in young than in mature leaves. Recruitment was restricted to damaged leaves. No increment in recruitment rates was observed in undamaged, adjacent leaves. Different levels of leaf damage did not elicit differences in recruitment rates. Aqueous extract of leaves, placed on undamaged leaves of the host plant, also led to increased recruitment compared with water (control), and more ants were recruited to extracts from young than from mature and old leaves. Extracts of both H. myrmecophila and Protium hebetatum induced recruitment. We discuss the evolutionary importance of plant leaf components for maintenance of the ant-plant mutualism.(Accepted January 27 2004)
Key Words: Allomerus; Amazon; induced resistance; mutualism; plant resistance.
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