In many ant–plant mutualisms, ants establish colonies in hollow thorns, leaf pouches, or other specialized structures on their host plants, which they then defend from herbivores. Resource heterogeneity could affect the maintenance of these mutualisms if it leads to one or both partners altering their investment in the interaction. Such a phenomenon may be especially pertinent to the Acacia–ant mutualism found in East African savannas, where termite mounds have a profound effect on the spatial structuring of resources used by both plants and ants. Here, we examined whether the proximity to termite mounds of Acacia drepanolobium trees is associated with variation in the behavior of one of their ant associates, Crematogaster nigriceps. We found that ant colonies near termite mounds had decreased aggressive responses to simulated herbivory as well as increased off-tree movement. We hypothesize that these changes are the result of resident ant colonies near termite mounds shifting investment from defense of their host plant to foraging for nearby resources.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Acacia drepanolobium
- Crematogaster nigriceps
- ant–acacia mutualism
- spatial heterogeneity
- termite mounds