Benefits associated with the domatia mediated tritrophic mutualism in the shrub Coprosma lucida


  • Adrian Monks,

  • Dean M. O'Connell,

  • William G. Lee,

  • Jennifer M. Bannister,

  • Katharine J. M. Dickinson

A. Monks ( and W. G. Lee, Landcare Research, Private Bag 1930, Dunedin, New Zealand. – D. M. O'Connell, J. M. Bannister, K. J. M. Dickinson, Botany Dept, Univ. of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand.


The fitness benefits of plant structural adaptations that increase the effectiveness of fungivores against leaf pathogenic fungi are poorly understood. In a 12-month field experiment, we investigated the effect of domatia on mite density, the role of these mites in limiting leaf fungi, and the associated effects on plant fitness in the endemic New Zealand shrub, Coprosma lucida. The presence of domatia on mite density was controlled using combinations of domatia blocking, sham blocking, mite addition and mite control using miticide. Limiting access to domatia reduced mite density and increased the proportion of leaves without mites. Mite families represented were predominantly fungivorous/detritivorous (97.2%), and predaceous (2.6%); herbivorous mites were absent. Mites significantly reduced fungal hyphae, fungal spores and pollen, but the effect was surface-(upper/lower) and density-dependent with the greatest reduction in fungi occurring over low mite densities. Fungal hyphae reduced leaf longevity, but were associated with increased production of new leaves. Hyphae density on old leaves was negatively correlated with the number of domatia produced on new leaves. New leaves in the mite reduction treatment had slightly reduced levels of carbon but not nitrogen. High levels of fungal infection on the lower surface increased the number of fruit fascicles per shoot, however on the upper surface where fungi were reduced by mites, hyphae density was negatively related to reproduction. The data support a limited interpretation of a fitness benefit for plants with domatia. While domatia increased mite density, control of fungi by mites occurred at lower average densities than supported by plants without functioning domatia. We suggest the primary function of leaf domatia in this mutualism is to increase the probability of a leaf-level beneficial mite presence rather than to maximise mite density. Many mites are not necessarily better than few mites, but some mites are better than none.