Predation success by a plant-ant indirectly favours the growth and fitness of its host myrmecophyte

Abstract : Mutualisms, or interactions between species that lead to net fitness benefits for each species involved, are stable and ubiquitous in nature mostly due to "byproduct benefits" stemming from the intrinsic traits of one partner that generate an indirect and positive outcome for the other. Here we verify if myrmecotrophy (where plants obtain nutrients from the refuse of their associated ants) can explain the stability of the tripartite association between the myrmecophyte Hirtella physophora, the ant Allomerus decemarticulatus and an Ascomycota fungus. The plant shelters and provides the ants with extrafloral nectar. The ants protect the plant from herbivores and integrate the fungus into the construction of a trap that they use to capture prey; they also provide the fungus and their host plant with nutrients. During a 9-month field study, we over-provisioned experimental ant colonies with insects, enhancing colony fitness (i.e., more winged females were produced). The rate of partial castration of the host plant, previously demonstrated, was not influenced by the experiment. Experimental plants showed higher δ¹⁵N values (confirming myrmecotrophy), plus enhanced vegetative growth (e.g., more leaves produced increased the possibility of lodging ants in leaf pouches) and fitness (i.e., more fruits produced and more flowers that matured into fruit). This study highlights the importance of myrmecotrophy on host plant fitness and the stability of ant-myrmecophyte mutualisms.
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Alain Dejean, Jérôme Orivel, Vivien Rossi, Olivier Roux, Jérémie Lauth, et al.. Predation success by a plant-ant indirectly favours the growth and fitness of its host myrmecophyte. PLoS ONE, Public Library of Science, 2013, vol. 8, pp. 1-6. ⟨10.1371/journal.pone.0059405⟩. ⟨hal-00913754⟩

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