Eur. J. Entomol. 109 (2): 187-196, 2012 | DOI: 10.14411/eje.2012.025

The degree of protection different ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) provide aphids (Hemiptera: Aphididae) against aphidophages

Tatiana A. NOVGORODOVA, Anton V. GAVRILYUK
Institute of Systematics and Ecology of Animals, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Frunze str. 11, Novosibirsk, 630091, Russia; e-mail: tanovg@yandex.ru

Aphids play an important role in the life of many ant species supplying them with energy-rich carbohydrate food and in exchange receiving some degree of protection from natural enemies. This study focused on the degree of protection different ants provide myrmecophilous aphids (Hemiptera: Aphididae) in multispecies ant communities. Field investigations were carried out in steppe and forest plant associations in Siberia. The potential level of aggressiveness of six ant species (Formica rufa Linnaeus, F. pratensis Retzius, Lasius fuliginosus (Latreille), L. niger (Linnaeus), Camponotus saxatilis Ruzsky and Myrmica rubra Linnaeus) towards imagines and larvae of ladybirds and lacewings and larvae of hoverflies was tested in the laboratory. A comparative analysis of the occurrence of aphidophages in colonies of the aphid Chaitophorus populeti Panzer and of all aphid-symbionts tended by different ants in the study area has shown that the degree of protection of myrmecophilous aphids from natural enemies significantly differs among ants and is positively correlated with ant colony size. On the whole, the degree of protection of myrmecophilous aphids from aphidophages depends both on the potential level of aggressiveness of ants and their foraging strategy when collecting honeydew (degree of specialisation among honeydew collectors). As the dominant ants Formica s. str. were the most aggressive and provided aphids with the highest degree of protection, we suppose that these ants have the most important influence on the survival of the symbionts in multispecies ant communities whereas the other ants, which live in small colonies of about 102-103 workers, appear at least partially to take advantage of the mutualistic relationships of the dominant ants.

Keywords: Formicidae, Aphididae, ants, aphids, aphidophages, degree of protection, trophobiosis, behaviour

Received: July 1, 2011; Accepted: October 31, 2011; Published: April 5, 2012

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