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Diversity of ant-plant interactions: Protective efficacy in Macaranga species with different degrees of ant-association.
The pioneer tree Macaranga in SE Asia has developed manyfold associations with ants. The genus comprises all stages of interaction with ants, from facultative relationships to obligate myrmecophytes. Only myrmecophytic Macaranga offer nesting space for ants and are associated with a specific ant partner. The nonmyrmecophytic species are visited by a variety of different ant species which are attracted by extrafloral nectaries (EFN) and food bodies. Transitional Macaranga species like M. hosei are colonized later in their development due to their stem structure. Before the colonization by their specific Crematogaster partner the young plants are visited by different ant species attracted by EFN. These nectaries are reduced and food body production starts as soon as colonization becomes possible. We demonstrated earlier that obligate ant partners can protect their Macaranga plants against herbivore damage and vine cover. In this study we focused on nonspecific interactions and studied M. tanarius and M. hosei, representing a non-myrmecophyte and a transitional species respectively. In ant exclusion experiments both M. tanarius and M. hosei suffered significantly higher mean leaf damage than controls, 37% versus 6% in M. hosei, 16% versus 7% in M. tanarius. M. tanarius offers both EFN and food bodies so that tests for different effects of these two food rewards could be conducted. Plants with food bodies removed but with EFN remaining had the lowest mean increase of herbivore damage of all experimental groups. Main herbivores on M. hosei were mites and caterpillars. Many M. tanarius plants were infested by a shootborer. Both Macaranga species were visited by various ant species. Crematogaster spp. being the most abundant. We found no evidence for any specific relationships. The results of this study strongly support the hypothesis that non-specific, facultative associations with ants can be advantageous for Macaranga plants. Food bodies appear to have lower attractive value for opportunistic ants than EFN and may require a specific dietary adaptation. This is also indicated by the fact that food body production in the transitional M. hosei does not start before stem structure allows a colonization by the obligate Crematogaster species. M. hosei thus benefits from facultative association with a variety of ants until it produces its first domatia and can be colonized by its obligate mutualist.