Stoichiometric relations in an ant-treehopper mutualism




Carbon : nitrogen : phosphorus (C : N : P) stoichiometry can underlie physiological and life history characteristics that shape ecological interactions. Despite its potential importance, there is much to learn about the causes and consequences of stoichiometric variation in terrestrial consumers. Here we show that treehoppers (Publilia modesta) tended by ants (Formica obscuripes) contained lower N concentrations than treehoppers on plants from which ants were excluded. Ant presence also affected nutrient concentrations in host plants: on plants with ants, leaves contained uniformly low concentrations of N; on plants without ants, N concentrations were low only in the few leaves fed upon by treehoppers at the time of collection. We suggest treehopper feeding reduces leaf nutrient levels and ants positively affect treehopper abundance, producing a top–down effect on plant quality. Determining the causes of these stoichiometric changes should help elucidate factors guiding the dynamics of conditional mutualisms between ants and homopterans.