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Plant-attracted ants affect arthropod community structure but not necessarily herbivory


*Karsten Mody, Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology, Biozentrum, Am Hubland, D-97074 Würzburg, Germany. E-mail:


Abstract.  1. The effectiveness of ants as plant defenders is equivocal for plants that attract ants via extrafloral nectaries (EFNs).

2. This study focused on the myrmecophilic savannah tree Pseudocedrela kotschyi that attracts ants to EFNs and on the arthropod fauna associated with P. kotschyi. Herbivory and arthropod community composition were compared between trees that were dominated by one of three congeneric ant species, Camponotus acvapimensis, C. rufoglaucus, and C. sericeus, and between trees where ants were experimentally excluded and untreated control trees.

3. Short-term ant-exclusion experiments failed to demonstrate a consistent effect of ants on herbivory.

4. Plants dominated by different ant species differed significantly in leaf damage caused by herbivorous insects. The relative ranking of herbivory levels of the trees dominated by different ant species was persistent in three consecutive years.

5. Ants significantly reduced the abundance of different arthropod groups (Araneae, Blattodea, Coleoptera, Homoptera, non-ant Hymenoptera). Other groups, including important herbivores, seemed not to be affected (Lepidoptera, Orthoptera, Thysanoptera, Heteroptera).

6. The study suggests that the presence of ants only benefits plants when specific ant species are attracted, and protection by these ants is not counterbalanced by their negative effect on other beneficial arthropods.