lunes, 13 de julio de 2009
Ants interact with many other organisms through their feeding preferences, nesting and foraging activities: with plants, with honeydew-producing insects (aphids, whiteflies, scales, some butterfly larvae and mealybugs), with other insects and with microorganisms. In particular, ant species that tend honeydew-producing insects may change the abundance, diversity and fitness of those organisms involved in the interaction. My main interests are: how does the mutualism between ant species and honeydew-producing insects vary on time and space? How does the outcome of this mutualism change according to the particular species of tending ant and honeydew-producer involved? There are costs and benefits for each organism related, directly or indirectly, with the mutualistic interaction between tending ants and honeydew-producers (Fig 1).
Both, ant species have positive and negative effects on plants. Leaf cutting ants indirectly increase soil nutrient content but, this effect occurs at a small-scale (in external o internal refused damp material). It had been demonstrated that plants growing close to nest or on external dump use these nutrients to increase its biomass and leaf quality compared with plants far away of the nest. On other hand, leaf cutting ants have a negative effect if we consider the herbivory of these ants. But, when the tending ant displaces leaf cutting ants the situation could become as the one showed in figure 1. The outcome for the herbivored plant will depend on the net effect of the mutualism between tending ants and honeydew producing insects and the net effect of the herbivory of leaf cutting ants.
Additionally, I am strongly interested in ant taxonomy as a tool to put research of mutualism in a broader context by considering the composition of the whole ant community where these mutualisms develop. Taxonomy is also interesting because ants are good candidates for bioindicators of conservation stage in natural areas and of several processes such as soil restoration.