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Impact of extrafloral nectar availability and plant genotype on ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) visitation to quaking aspen (Salicaceae)

  • Jonathon R. Newman (a1), Diane Wagner (a1) and Patricia Doak (a1)

For quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michaux; Salicaceae) the rate of extrafloral (EF) sugar secretion is increased by defoliation and decreased by drought. Although wholesale blocking of EF nectar has been shown to reduce ant (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) visitation to aspen, the effect of more subtle and realistic variations in nectar availability on ant recruitment is unknown. Working in Alaskan boreal forest (United States of America), we reduced and supplemented EF nectar availability on potted aspen ramets of three genotypes and surveyed visitation by free-living Formica fusca (Linnaeus) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Ants were more responsive to a subtle increase in sugar availability than to a decrease. While nectar reduction had no effect on ant visitation, nectar supplementation increased ant visitation to one aspen genotype by 70% during an early summer trial. Average ant visitation to different aspen genotypes varied during the late summer, indicating that aspen genotype can influence attractiveness to ants. We conclude that natural induction of EF secretion in response to herbivory may benefit aspen through improved ant recruitment, though the response is dependent on aspen genotype and time of year. Differences among aspen genets in attractiveness to ants could influence the relative success of genotypes, especially in settings in which aspen regenerates from seed.

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