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Protection against herbivores of the myrmecophyte Leonardoxa africana (Baill.) Aubrèv. T3 by its principal ant inhabitant Aphomomyrmex afer Emery

Abstract : Leonardoxa africana T3 is a myrmecophyte, a plant with specialized struc- tures (domatia) that shelter ants. Adult trees are essentially all occupied by the ant Apho- momyrmex afer. One tree possesses one ant colony. Ants tend homopterans inside the domatia. The plant provides ants with nest sites and food via production of extrafloral nectar and via honeydew produced by homopterans. Workers patrol the young leaves, although their nectaries are not yet functional. This study was conducted to investigate the nature of the relationship between the plant and its ants. In order to determine whether ants protect the plant against herbivorous insects, we placed microlepidopteran larvae on young leaves of several trees, and measured the time until discovery of the larvae by the workers. We then studied the responses of workers as a function of insect size. We showed that workers patrolled the young leaves of the majority of trees. There was, however, inter-colony variability in intensity of patrolling. Workers attacked every larva they found, killing and eating the smaller ones, and chasing larger ones off the young leaf. Most of the phytophagous insects attacking young leaves of L. africana T3 were inventoried in this study. We showed that the larvae of microlepidopterans, one of the most important herbivores of this species, form part of the diet of A. afer. The function of the stereotyped behaviour of ant patrolling on young leaves may be in part to obtain insect protein to complement carbohydrate-rich nectar and honeydew, and in part to protect the host and thus increase its production of resources for ants. Our study shows that ants protect the tree against herbivores, and that even if this protection is less pronounced and more variable than that demonstrated for their sister species L. africana sensu stricto and Petalomyrmex phylax, the association between L. africana T3 and A. afer is a mutualism. ( Académie des sciences / Elsevier, Paris.)
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Laurence Gaume, Doyle Mckey. Protection against herbivores of the myrmecophyte Leonardoxa africana (Baill.) Aubrèv. T3 by its principal ant inhabitant Aphomomyrmex afer Emery. Comptes rendus de l’Académie des sciences. Série III, Sciences de la vie, Elsevier, 1998, 321 (7), pp.593-601. ⟨10.1016/S0764-4469(98)80462-9⟩. ⟨hal-02388747⟩

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