Taking trophic cascades up a level: behaviorally-modified effects of phorid flies on ants and ant prey in coffee agroecosystems


  • Stacy M. Philpott,

  • Jorge Maldonado,

  • John Vandermeer,

  • Ivette Perfecto

S. Philpott and J. Vandermeer, Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA (sphilpot@umich.edu). – J. Maldonado, c/o El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR), Carretera Antiguo Aeropuerto, Km 2.5, Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico 30700. – I. Perfecto, School of Natural Resources and the Environment, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


Trophic cascades exist in numerous terrestrial systems, including many systems with ants as the top predator. Many studies show how behavioral modifications of herbivores are especially important in mediating species interactions and trophic cascades. Although most studies of trophic cascades focus on predator-herbivore-plant links, the trophic cascades concept could be applied to almost any level of trophic interactions. Especially considering the importance of parasites we consider here the interactions between the parasitic phorid fly, Pseudacteon sp. (Diptera: Phoridae), its ant host, Azteca instabilis (F. Smith) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), and the herbivore, Spodoptera frugiperda (J.E. Smith) (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in the coffee agroecosystem. We investigated the effects of phorid flies on ant behavior by monitoring ant recruitment to tuna baits over a 30-min period in the presence or absence of phorid flies. To study the indirect effects of phorids on larvae, we placed baits on coffee plants to elevate ant foraging levels to levels near to ant nests, placed larvae near baits, and recorded the effects of ants on larvae either in the presence or absence of phorid flies. We found that phorid fly presence significantly reduced ant ability to recruit to baits through behavioral modifications and also significantly lessened ant ability to attack, carry away, or force herbivores off plants. We conclude there is a behaviorally-modified species-level trophic cascade in the coffee agroecosystem, with potentially important effects in ant and herbivore communities as well as for coffee production.