Send to

Choose Destination
Oecologia. 1999 Feb;118(2):192-202. doi: 10.1007/s004420050718.

The role of ant-tended extrafloral nectaries in the protection and benefit of a Neotropical rainforest tree.

Author information

Department of Biology, University of Missouri-St. Louis, 8001 Natural Bridge Road, St. Louis, MO 63121-4499, USA, , , , , , US.


One possible function of extrafloral nectaries is to attract insects, particularly ants, which defend plants from herbivores. We determined whether ants visiting saplings of the tree Stryphnodendronmicrostachyum (Leguminosae) provide protection (decreased plant damage due to ant molestation or killing of herbivores) and benefit (increased plant growth and reproduction associated with ant presence) to the plant. We compared ant and herbivore abundance, herbivore damage and growth of ant-visited plants and ant-excluded plants grown in sun and shade microhabitats of a 6-ha plantation in Costa Rica over a 7-month period. Results show that ants provided protection to plants not by reducing herbivore numbers but by molesting herbivores. Ants also reduced the incidence of pathogen attack on leaves. Protection was greater in the shade than in the sun, probably due to lower herbivore attack in the sun. Protection was also variable within sun and shade habitats, and this variability appeared to be related to variable ant visitation. Results also indicate that ant presence benefits the plant: ant-visited plants grew significantly more in height than ant-excluded plants. The cultivation of ants may serve as an important natural biological control in tropical forestry and agroforestry systems, where increased plant density can otherwise lead to increased herbivore attack.


Ectatommaruidum; Euclystis sp.; Herbivory; Key words Ant-plant interaction; Wasmanniaauropunctata


Supplemental Content

Loading ...
Support Center