PROTECTION MUTUALISM: AN OVERVIEW OF ANT-PLANT INTERACTIONS MEDIATED BY EXTRAFLORAL NECTARIES
Ants and plants bearing extrafloral nectaries (EFNs) are among the most abundant interacting organisms in the Neotropics, being considered excellent models for studies of ecological interactions. These mutualisms have been studied for more than 150 years. The first studies on this subject addressed the indirect benefit of the presence of ants on plants, reducing the foliar herbivory in most cases. Recently, the direct and indirect benefits of these interactions for ants and for EFNs-bearing
... or EFNs-bearing plants survivorship, growth and reproduction, have shown conditionality to spatial and temporal variations. Here, we reviewed how the topic "protection mutualism in ant-plant interactions mediated by EFNs" has been approached more recently. A great number of papers dealing with this theme have been published in the last 30 years and new perspectives have emerged in the last decade. We showed how scientific and academic areas are working to improve the knowledge on protection mutualisms considering ant-plant ecological networks and how they can shape communities. Furthermore, we discuss some aspects related with the EFNs evolutionary hypotheses, the existence of conditionalities in ant-plant protection mutualism mediated by EFNs, and we provide some perspectives to inspire new studies that will help in the understanding of these fascinating ecological interactions.