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Macaranga ant-plants hide food from intruders: correlation of food presentation and presence of wax barriers analysed using phylogenetically independent contrasts

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Many tropical ant-plants provide specialized ant partners with food, which may attract foreign ants parasitizing the mutualism. We present evidence for the ant-plant genus Macaranga, showing that ant competition has forced host plants to hide food resources and restrict access to the mutualists. In Macaranga myrmecophytes, the influence of ant competition strongly depends on the presence of slippery ‘wax barriers’. Of all Macaranga ant-plant species, 50% have waxy stems that can be climbed only by the specific ant partners and not by other ant species. We compared the presentation of food (food bodies and extrafloral nectar) between waxy and non-waxy Macaranga host plants using traditional and phylogenetic comparative methods. Consistent with the hypothesized effect of ant competition, wax-free Macaranga host species had fewer extrafloral nectaries and more often produced food bodies under recurved or tubular stipules inaccessible to other ants; closed stipules were less persistent in waxy hosts. Several traits showed phylogenetic signal, but our finding of a more promiscuous food presentation in waxy Macaranga hosts was still supported by phylogenetic comparative analyses. We conclude that competition among ants is an important factor in the evolution of myrmecophytism, and that it has given rise to traits acting as protective filter mechanisms. © 2005 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2005, 84, 177–193.
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Keywords: adaptation; ant competition; biotic defence; coevolution; comparative method; epicuticular wax; extrafloral nectaries; mutualism; myrmecophyte

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Zoologie II, Biozentrum, Theodor-Boveri-Institut, Universität Würzburg, Am Hubland, D-97074 Würzburg, Germany

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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