Plant-Inhabiting Ant Utilizes Chemical Cues for Host Discrimination



The Neotropical ant Pseudomyrmex triplarinus is involved in an obligate and complex symbiotic association with Triplaris americana trees. The ants inhabit trunk and branch domatia and respond aggressively to foreign invaders. Their degree of host specificity and basis for recognition of host trees has not been studied. We determined that, in contrast to T. americana seedlings, heterospecific seedlings set around the host trees suffered continuous pruning. Ants also removed 80–100 percent of heterospecific leaves attached to the trunk in contrast to only 10–30 percent of conspecific leaves. True species specificity was demonstrated by the selective removal of leaves from Triplaris poeppigiana pinned to host trees. This selectivity was also observed in a matrix-independent bioassay using leaf cuticular extracts on glass microfiber strips. Strips treated with leaf wax extracts from host trees and pinned to the trunk of host trees received only 42 percent of the number of ant visits recorded on solvent-treated controls by the end of the experiment. Strips treated with extracts of a related species, T. poeppigiana, received 64 percent of the number of ant visits compared with solvent-treated controls. These experiments also suggest that P. triplarinus recognizes surface chemicals of their host tree, independent of the texture or architecture of the carrier material; although these factors may still play some role in recognition. This is the first study that we are aware of to investigate the mechanism of host discrimination related to pruning behavior.

Abstract in Spanish is available at