Complex interactions involving the Cape fig, Ficus sur Forsskal, and its associated insects

Zachariades, Costas (1995) Complex interactions involving the Cape fig, Ficus sur Forsskal, and its associated insects. PhD thesis, Rhodes University.

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Abstract

The inadequacy of arbitrarily classifying interacti(ms between species as antagonistic, neutral or mutualistic has become clear in recent years. Both direct and indirect interactions between species can vary between mutualism and antagonism, depending on the intrinsic and extrinsic contexts of the interaction. This study investigated the characteristics of an ant-plant-homopteran interaction in southern Africa. The polyphagous homopteran Hilda patruelis (fettigometridae) feeds primarily on the trunk-borne fruiting branches and figs of the Cape fig tree, Ficus sur, and produces honeydew which attracts tending ants. Ten of the sixteen ant species/species groups present on F. sur tended H. patruelis, with Pheidole megacephala the most frequent attendant Ants attracted to F. sur by H. patruelis honeydew or other liquid food sources also preyed on insects on the tree, including adults of the small agaonid fig wasps whose larvae feed on the ovules in the developing figs. One fig wasp species (Ceratosolen capensis) is also the tree's only pollinator. No benefits to H. patruelis from being tended by ants were detected, either in terms of reduced parasitism, or predation by a lycaenid caterpillar. A P. megacephala colony foraging on a F. sur tree was found to receive a high proportion of its likely energy requirements from the tree, mainly in the form of H. patruelis honeydew, during periods when it was bearing fruit. It is probable that the H. patruelis-P. megacephala interaction constitutes a direct mutualism at times, but that benefits to the homopteran are intermittent or weak. Both H. patruelis and ants benefitted from F. sur, directly or indirectly, through the provision of food (and for some ants, nesting sites). The removal of phloem sap by H. patruelis did not detectabl y reduce the trees' reproductive output, either in terms of pollinator or viable seed production. The indirect effects of ant and H. patruelis presence on the F. sur trees were on average positive, as ants preyed disproportionately heavily on fig wasp species VI parasitic on or competing with the pollinator, thus increasing pollinator production. Effects of ant presence on seed production were not investigated, but have been demonstrated as beneficial elsewhere. However, there is great v~atlon both in the composition of the wasp fauna arriving to oviposit at different crops, and in ant densities per fig, on several temporal and spatial scales. This results in high variability in the effects of ants on the pollinator and, through it, the tree, from positive to zero and potentially even negative. Despite this conditionality of beneficial outcomes for the tree, the mean effect of ants on the F. sur population studied was to increase pollinator production by up to nearly 20%. This study is among the few to have demonstrated an overall benefit to a plant of having homopteran-tending ants present on it Vll

Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Cape fig, Ficus sur Forsskal, Wasp, Ants, Homoptera, Insects, Mutualism
Subjects:Q Science > QL Zoology > Invertebrates > Insects
Q Science > QL Zoology
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Science > Zoology & Entomology
Supervisors:Compton, Steve and Robertson, Hamish
ID Code:3431
Deposited By: Mrs Carol Perold
Deposited On:20 Sep 2012 12:03
Last Modified:20 Sep 2012 12:03
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