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A temporary social parasite of tropical plant-ants improves the fitness of a myrmecophyte

Déjean A., Leroy C., Corbara B., Céréghino R., Roux O., Hérault B., Rossi V., Guerrero R.J., Delabie J.H.C., Orivel J., Boulay R.. 2010. Naturwissenschaften, 97 : p. 925-934.

DOI: 10.1007/s00114-010-0710-y

Myrmecophytes offer plant-ants a nesting place in exchange for protection from their enemies, particularly defoliators. These obligate ant-plant mutualisms are common model systems for studying factors that allow horizontally transmitted mutualisms to persist since parasites of ant-myrmecophyte mutualisms exploit the rewards provided by host plants whilst providing no protection in return. In pioneer formations in French Guiana, Azteca alfari and Azteca ovaticeps are known to be mutualists of myrmecophytic Cecropia (Cecropia ants). Here, we show that Azteca andreae, whose colonies build carton nests on myrmecophytic Cecropia, is not a parasite of Azteca-Cecropia mutualisms nor is it a temporary social parasite of A. alfari; it is, however, a temporary social parasite of A. ovaticeps. Contrarily to the two mutualistic Azteca species that are only occasional predators feeding mostly on hemipteran honeydew and food bodies provided by the host trees, A. andreae workers, which also attend hemipterans, do not exploit the food bodies. Rather, they employ an effective hunting technique where the leaf margins are fringed with ambushing workers, waiting for insects to alight. As a result, the host trees' fitness is not affected as A. andreae colonies protect their foliage better than do mutualistic Azteca species resulting in greater fruit production. Yet, contrarily to mutualistic Azteca, when host tree development does not keep pace with colony growth, A. andreae workers forage on surrounding plants; the colonies can even move to a non-Cecropia tree.

Mots-clés : azteca; cecropia; insecte utile; agroécosystème; interactions biologiques; mécanisme de défense; relation plante animal; parasite; forêt tropicale; Écologie; Écologie animale; arbre; guyane française; france

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