Ant predation on red oak borer confirmed by field observation and molecular gut-content analysis
1 Populations of an indigenous longhorn beetle, the red oak borer Enaphalodes rufulus (Haldeman) (Coleoptera: Cerambycidae), recently reached epidemic levels in the Ozark National Forests of Arkansas and Missouri, resulting in extensive tree mortality.
2 The factors regulating E. rufulus populations are largely unknown. Ants appear to be the most abundant potential predators in the Ozarks and have been shown to play a role in regulating populations of other forest insects.
3 The main objective of the present study was to determine whether ants are predators of early E. rufulus life stages by direct observation of E. rufulus eggs artificially placed on tree trunks and by development of molecular tools to detect E. rufulus DNA within ant gut contents.
4 Three hundred and eighty E. rufulus eggs were applied to ten northern red oaks. Ants ate or carried away 72% of the eggs within 1 h. Camponotus pennsylvanicus (De Geer) and Aphaenogaster tennesseensis (Mayr) were identified as the two primary ant species observed in the study.
5 A portion of the mitochondrial 16S rRNA gene of E. rufulus was sequenced and polymerase chain reaction primers were developed to detect E. rufulus DNA in the guts of C. pennsylvanicus. Enaphalodes rufulus DNA persisted in ant gut contents for at least 24 h after ingestion under laboratory conditions, and E. rufulus DNA was detected in field-collected ant populations, suggesting the natural occurrence of ant predation on this insect.