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Honeydew amino acids in relation to sugars and their role in the establishment of ant-attendance hierarchy in eight species of aphids feeding on tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

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The ratio of the concentration of honeydew total amino acids to total sugars in the honeydew of eight species of aphids, all feeding on tansy, Tanacetum vulgare (L.), was determined and correlated with honeydew production and ant-attendance. The honeydew of the five ant-attended aphid species [Metopeurum fuscoviride (Stroyan), Trama troglodytes (v. Hayd), Aphis vandergooti (Börner), Brachycardus cardui (L.), Aphis fabae (Scopoli)] was rich in total amino acids, ranging from 12.9 to 20.8 nmol µL−1 compared with the unattended aphid Macrosiphoniella tanacetaria (Kalt.) with only 3 nmol µL−1. Asparagine, glutamine, glutamic acid and serine (all nonessential amino acids) were the predominant amino acids in the honeydew of all species. The total concentration of amino acids in the phloem sap of tansy was much higher (78.7 nmol µL−1) then in the honeydew samples, and the predominant amino acids were glutamate (34.3%) and threonine (17.7%). A somewhat unexpected result was the finding that those aphid species with the highest total amino acid concentration in the honeydew always had the highest concentration of sugars. The lowest amino acid–sugar combined value was 104–28.8 nmol µL−1 in the non ant-attended species M. tanacetaria, and the highest value was an average of 270–89.9 nmol µL−1 for the three most intensely attended aphid species M. fuscoviride, A. vandergooti and T. troglodytes. There is no evidence that any single amino acid or group of amino acids in the honeydew acted as an attractant for ant-attendance in these eight aphid species. The richness of the honeydew (rate of secretion × total concentration of sugars), along with the presence of the attractant sugar melezitose, comprised the critical factors determining the extent of ant-attendance of the aphids feeding on T. vulgare. The high total amino acid concentration in sugar-rich honeydews can be explained by the high flow-through of nutrients in aphids that are particularly well attended by ants.
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Keywords: Ant-attendance; L. niger; aphids; honeydew amino acids; honeydew production; honeydew sugars; melezitose; phloem sap composition; trehalose

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Animal Ecology, University Bayreuth, Bayreuth, Germany and

Publication date: September 1, 2004

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