An ant-plant mutualism induces shifts in the protist community structure of a tank-bromeliad

Abstract : Although ants may induce community-wide effects via changes in physical habitats in terrestrial environments, their influence on aquatic communities living in plant-held waters remains largely underexplored. The neotropical tank-bromeliad Aechmea mertensii (Bromeliaceae) occurs along forest edges in ant-gardens initiated by Camponotus femoratus or by Pachycondyla goeldii. Its leaves form wells that hold rainwater and provide suitable habitats for many aquatic organisms. We postulated that these ant-plant mutualisms indirectly affect the microbial community structure via changes in the environmental conditions experienced by the plants. To test this hypothesis, we analyzed the protist communities from 63 tank-bromeliads associated with either C. femoratus or P. goeldii (hereafter Cf-Aechmea and Pg-Aechmea) along a forest edge in French Guiana. For each plant, a large number of environmental variables (including habitat structure, food resources, incident radiation and the presence of aquatic invertebrates) were quantified to determine their relative importance in driving any observed differences across ant-associated plants. Pg-Aechmea are located in sun-exposed areas and hold low volumes of water and low amounts of detritus, whereas Cf-Aechmea are located in partially shaded areas and accumulate higher amounts of water and detritus. Protists (i.e., protozoa and algae) inhabiting Cf-Aechmea exhibit greater richness and abundances than those in Pg-Aechmea. Variations in detritus content, number of leaves, incident radiation, and the epiphyte richness of the ant-garden were the main factors explaining the variation in protist richness. A shift in the functional group composition of protists between bromeliads tended by different ant species suggested that mutualistic ants indirectly mediate changes in the microbial food web.
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Jean-François Carrias, Olivier Brouard, Céline Leroy, Régis Céréghino, Laurent Pelozuelo, et al.. An ant-plant mutualism induces shifts in the protist community structure of a tank-bromeliad. Basic and Applied Ecology, Elsevier, 2012, vol. 13, pp. 698-705. ⟨10.1016/j.baae.2012.10.002⟩. ⟨hal-00913126⟩

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