Ant-Pollinator Conflict Results in Pollinator Deterrence but no Nectar Trade-Offs

Nora Villamil Buenrostro, Karina Boege, Graham N. Stone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Direct and indirect negative interactions between ant guards and pollinators on ant-plants are expected for two reasons. First, aggressive ants may deter pollinators directly. Second, pollinators benefit from plant investment in reproduction whilst ants benefit from plant investment in indirect defense, and resource allocation trade-offs between these functions could lead to indirect conflict. We explored the potential for ant-pollinator conflict in a Mexican myrmecophile, Turnera velutina, which rewards ants with extrafloral nectar and pollinators with floral nectar. We characterized the daily timing of ant and pollinator activity on the plant and used experiments to test for direct and indirect conflict between these two groups of mutualists. We tested for direct conflict by quantifying pollinator responses to flowers containing dead specimens of aggressive ant species, relative to unoccupied control flowers. We assessed indirect conflict by testing for the existence of a trade-off in sugar allocation between ant and pollinator rewards, evidenced by an increase in floral nectar secretion when extrafloral nectar secretion was prevented. Secretion of floral and extrafloral nectar, activity of ants and pollinators, and pollen deposition all overlapped in daily time and peaked within the first 2 h after flowers opened. We found evidence of direct conflict, in that presence of ants inside the flowers altered pollinator behavior and reduced visit duration, although visit frequency was unchanged. We found no evidence for indirect conflict, with no significant difference in the volume or sugar content of floral nectar between control plants and those in which extrafloral nectar secretion was prevented. The presence of ants in flowers alters pollinator behavior in ways that are likely to affect pollination dynamics, though there is no apparent trade-off between plant investment in nectar rewards for pollinators and ant guards. Further studies are required to quantify the effect of the natural abundance of ants in flowers on pollinator behavior, and any associated impacts on plant reproductive success.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalFrontiers in plant science
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2018

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Turnera velutina
  • ant-plant
  • floral nectar
  • extrafloral nectar
  • resource allocation
  • indirect interactions
  • Myrmecophily


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