The role of parabiotic ants and environment on epiphyte composition and protection in ant gardens
Ant gardens (AGs) are a multi-partner specialized ant-plant interaction involving several ant and epiphyte species. Although studies on AGs have reported possible roles for some species in this system, there are unanswered questions regarding the process of epiphyte incorporation in the AGs and the role of less aggressive ant species in AG protection. In this study, we used AGs in the Brazilian Amazon forest formed by two parabiotic ant species to test a set of hypothesis regarding two main
... arding two main questions: 1) How is AG plant community composition affected by the surrounding environment? 2) Does Crematogaster levior play a role in the chemical detection of herbivory in the AGs? After identifying epiphytes occurring at AGs at the forest edge and in the interior, we found that ant gardens in each environment exhibited different compositions, and that plant species bearing oil or extrafloral nectar glands were more frequent in AGs located in the forest interior than in those at the forest edge. By performing experiments with volatile compounds emitted from injured epiphytes, we detected that only Camponotus femoratus was responsive, responding almost eight times faster in response to plant extracts than water treatments. Our results support the idea that environmental conditions affect ant preference for feeding resources provided by epiphytes and consequently shape the structure of the epiphyte community in AGs. On the other hand, the role of C. levior in AGs remains unknown, since it seems to play no direct or indirect role in AG protection.