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Ant–aphid interactions on Asclepias syriaca are mediated by plant genotype and caterpillar damage


L. Abdala-Roberts, Dept of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Univ. of California, Irvine, CA 92697, USA. E-mail:


The means by which plant genotypes influence species interactions and arthropod community structure remain poorly understood. One potential, but largely unstudied mechanism is that occurring through plant genetic variation in induced responses to herbivory. Here we test whether induced responses to leaf damage and genotypic variation for induction in Asclepias syriaca influence interactions among Formica podzolica ants, the ant-tended aphid Aphis asclepiadis, and the untended aphid Myzocallis asclepiadis. In so doing, we assess genetic variation in plant-mediated interactions among different herbivore guilds. We conducted a three-way factorial field experiment manipulating plant genotype, leaf damage by specialist monarch caterpillars Danaus plexippus, and ant presence, and documented effects on aphid and ant abundances. Leaf damage increased Aphis abundance in both the presence and absence of ants and Myzocallis abundance under ant exclusion. In the presence of ants, leaf damage decreased Myzocallis abundance, likely due to effects on ant–Myzocallis interactions; ants showed a positive association with Myzocallis, leaf damage increased the strength of this association (425% more ants per aphid), and this in turn fed back to suppress Myzocallis abundance. Yet, these aggregate effects of leaf damage on Myzocallis and ants were underlain by substantial variation among milkweed geno types, with leaf damage inducing lower aphid and ant abundances on some genotypes, but higher abundances on others. As a consequence, a substantial fraction of the variation in leaf damage effects on ants (R2 =0.42) was explained by milkweed genetic variation in the strength and sign of leaf damage effects on Myzocallis. Although plant genetic variation influenced Aphis abundance, this did not translate into genetic variation in ant abundance, and leaf damage did not influence Aphis–ant interactions. Overall, we show that variation in induced responses to herbivory is a relevant condition by which plant genotype influences interactions in plant-centered arthropod communities and provide novel results of effects on the third trophic level.