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An assassin among predators: the relationship between plant-ants, their host myrmecophytes and the reduviidae zelus annulosus

Abstract : Tropical plants frequently live in association with ants that protect their foliage from defoliators. Among them, myrmecophytes have evolved mutualisms with a limited number of plant-ants that they shelter and feed, and, in return, benefit from some protection. Hirtella physophora (Chrysobalanaceae), for example, houses Allomerus decemarticulatus (Myrmicinae) that build gallery-shaped traps to catch large prey. In French Guiana, we frequently observed the assassin bug Zelus annulosus (Reduviidae, Harpactorinae) on the leaves of H. physophora. Here, we studied the distribution of Zelus annulosus among understory plants in the Guianese rainforest and found it only on pubescent plants, including H. Physophora, whether or not it was sheltering an A. decemarticulatus colony, but only rarely on other myrmecophytes. The relationship between Z. annulosus and its host plants is, then, also mutualistic, as the plant trichomes act as an enemy-free space protecting the nymphs from large predatory ants, while the nymphs protect their host-plants from herbivorous insects. Through their relationship with A. decemarticulatus colonies, Z. annulosus individuals are protected from army ants, while furnishing nothing in return. In those cases where H. physophora sheltered both an A. decemarticulatus colony and Z. annulosus nymphs, certain plant individuals repeatedly sheltered nymphs, indicating that female bugs may select not only pubescent plants but also particular H. physophora treelets having characteristics more favourable to the development of their progeny.
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Messika Revel, Alain Dejean, Régis Céréghino, Olivier Roux. An assassin among predators: the relationship between plant-ants, their host myrmecophytes and the reduviidae zelus annulosus. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2010, vol. 5 (10), pp. 1-7. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0013110⟩. ⟨hal-00911249⟩

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