Retaliation in response to castration promotes a low level of virulence in an ant–plant mutualism
ABSTRACT The diversion of a host’s energy by a symbiont for its own benefit is a major source of instability in horizontally-transmitted mutualisms. This instability can be counter-balanced by the host’s retaliation against exploiters. Such responses are crucial to the maintenance of the relationship. We focus on this issue in an obligate ant–plant mutualism in which the ants are known to partially castrate their host plant. We studied plant responses to various levels of castration in terms of (1) global vegetative investment and (2) investment in myrmecophytic traits. Castration led to a higher plant growth rate, signalling a novel case of gigantism induced by parasitic castration. On the other hand, completely castrated plants produced smaller nesting and food resources (i.e. leaf pouches and extra floral nectaries). Since the number of worker larvae is correlated to the volume of the leaf pouches, such a decrease in the investment in myrmecophytic traits demonstrates for the first time the existence of inducible retaliation mechanisms against too virulent castrating ants. Over time, this mechanism promotes an intermediate level of castration and enhances the stability of the mutualistic relationship by providing the ants with more living space while allowing the plant to reproduce.
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ABSTRACT: The disease caused by parasites and pathogens often causes sublethal effects that reduce host fecundity. Theory suggests that if parasites can "target" the detrimental effects of their growth on either host mortality or fecundity, they should always fully sterilize. This is because a reduction in host fecundity does not reduce the infectious period and is therefore neutral to a horizontally transmitted infectious organism. However, in nature fully castrating parasites are relatively rare, no doubt in part because of defense mechanisms in the host. Here, we examine in detail the evolution of host defense to the sterilizing effects of parasites and show that intermediate levels of sterility tolerance are found to evolve for a wide range of cost structures. Our key result arises when the host and parasite coevolve. Investment in tolerance by the host may prevent castration, but if host defense is through resistance (by controlling the parasite's growth rate) coevolution by the parasite results in the complete loss of infected host fecundity. Resistance is therefore a waste of resources, but tolerance can explain why parasites do not castrate their hosts. Our results further emphasize the importance of tolerance as opposed to resistance to parasites.Evolution 09/2009; 64(2):348-57. · 4.86 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: The evolutionary stability of mutualism is thought to depend on how well the fitness interests of partners are aligned. Because most ant-myrmecophyte mutualisms are persistent and horizontally transmitted, partners share an interest in growth but not in reproduction. Resources invested in reproduction are unavailable for growth, giving rise to a conflict of interest between partners. I investigated whether this explains why Allomerus octoarticulatus ants sterilize Cordia nodosa trees. Allomerus octoarticulatus nests in the hollow stem domatia of C. nodosa. Workers protect C. nodosa leaves against herbivores but destroy inflorescences. Using C. nodosa trees with Azteca ants, which do not sterilize their hosts, I cut inflorescences off trees to simulate sterilization by A. octoarticulatus. Sterilized C. nodosa grew faster than control trees, providing evidence for a trade-off between growth and reproduction. Allomerus octoarticulatus manipulates this trade-off to its advantage; sterilized trees produce more domatia and can house larger, more fecund colonies.The American Naturalist 06/2009; 173(5):675-81. · 4.55 Impact Factor
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ABSTRACT: ■ Abstract Protective ant-plant interactions, important in both temperate and trop- ical communities, are increasingly used to study a wide range of phenomena of general interest. As antiherbivore defenses "worn on the outside," they pose fewer barriers to experimentation than do direct (e.g., chemical) plant defenses. This makes them tractable models to study resource allocation to defense and mechanisms regulating it. As multi-trophic level interactions varying in species specificity and impact on fitness of participants, ant-plant-herbivore associations figure prominently in studies of food-web structure and functioning. As horizontally transmitted mutualisms that are vulnerable to parasites and "cheaters," ant-plant symbioses are studied to probe the evolutionary dynamics of interspecies interactions. These symbioses, products of coevolution between plants and insect societies, offer rich material for studying ant social evolution in novel contexts, in settings where colony limits, resource supply, and nest-site availability are all more easily quantifiable than in the ground-nesting ants hitherto used as models.Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, v.34, 425-453 (2003). 01/2003;