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J Evol Biol. 2008 Nov;21(6):1597-608. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2008.01600.x. Epub 2008 Sep 1.

Macroevolutionary patterns in the origin of mutualisms involving ants.

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Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Biological Records Centre, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK.


Ants are a diverse and abundant insect group that form mutualistic associations with a number of different organisms from fungi to insects and plants. Here, we use a phylogenetic approach to identify ecological factors that explain macroevolutionary trends in the mutualism between ants and honeydew-producing Homoptera. We also consider association between ant-Homoptera, ant-fungi and ant-plant mutualisms. Homoptera-tending ants are more likely to be forest dwelling, polygynous, ecologically dominant and arboreal nesting with large colonies of 10(4)-10(5) individuals. Mutualistic ants (including those that garden fungi and inhabit ant-plants) are found in under half of the formicid subfamilies. At the genus level, however, we find a negative association between ant-Homoptera and ant-fungi mutualisms, whereas there is a positive association between ant-Homoptera and ant-plant mutualisms. We suggest that species can only specialize in multiple mutualisms simultaneously when there is no trade-off in requirements from the different partners and no redundancy of rewards.

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