• Open Access

Cascading trait-mediated interactions induced by ant pheromones


  • Funds for this work were provided by an NSF grant to I. Perfecto and J. Vandermeer and by a grant from the Rackham Graduate School of the University of Michigan to H. Hsieh.


Ivette Perfecto, School of Natural Resources and Environment, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109. Tel: +734 764 8601; Fax: +734 936 2195; E-mail: perfecto@umich.edu


Trait-mediated indirect interactions (TMII) can be as important as density-mediated indirect interactions. Here, we provide evidence for a novel trait-mediated cascade (where one TMII affects another TMII) and demonstrate that the mechanism consists of a predator eavesdropping on chemical signaling. Ants protect scale insects from predation by adult coccinellid beetles – the first TMII. However, parasitic phorid flies reduce ant foraging activity by 50% – the second TMII, providing a window of opportunity for female beetles to oviposit in high-quality microsites. Beetle larvae are protected from ant predation and benefit from living in patches with high scale densities. We demonstrate that female beetles can detect pheromones released by the ant when attacked by phorids, and that only females, and especially gravid females, are attracted to the ant pheromone. As ants reduce their movement when under attack by phorids, we conclude that phorids facilitate beetle oviposition, thus producing the TMII cascade.