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J Exp Bot. 2001 Oct;52(363):2057-65.

Adaptations to biotic and abiotic stress: Macaranga-ant plants optimize investment in biotic defence.

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  • 1Lehrstuhl für Tierökologie und Tropenbiologie (Zoologie III), Theodor-Boveri-Institut, Biozentrum, Am Hubland, D-97074 Würzburg, Germany.


Obligate ant plants (myrmecophytes) in the genus Macaranga produce energy- and nutrient-rich food bodies (FBs) to nourish mutualistic ants which live inside the plants. These defend their host against biotic stress caused by herbivores and pathogens. Facultative, 'myrmecophilic' interactions are based on the provision of FBs and/or extrafloral nectar (EFN) to defending insects that are attracted from the vicinity. FB production by the myrmecophyte, M. triloba, was limited by soil nutrient content under field conditions and was regulated according to the presence or absence of an ant colony. However, increased FB production promoted growth of the ant colonies living in the plants. Ant colony size is an important defensive trait and is negatively correlated to a plant's leaf damage. Similar regulatory patterns occurred in the EFN production of the myrmecophilic M. tanarius. Nectar accumulation resulting from the absence of consumers strongly decreased nectar flow, which increased again when consumers had access to the plant. EFN flow could be induced via the octadecanoid pathway. Leaf damage increased levels of endogenous jasmonic acid (JA), and both leaf damage and exogenous JA application increased EFN flow. Higher numbers of nectary visiting insects and lower numbers of herbivores were present on JA-treated plants. In the long run, this decreased leaf damage significantly. Ant food production is controlled by different regulatory mechanisms which ensure that costs are only incurred when counterbalanced by defensive effects of mutualistic insects.

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