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Interactions between extrafloral nectaries, aphids and ants: are there competition effects between plant and homopteran sugar sources?

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Abstract

Broad bean (Vicia faba), an annual plant bearing extrafloral nectaries (EFN) at the base of the upper leaves, is regularly infested by two aphid species, Aphis fabae and Acyrthosiphon pisum. EFN and A. fabae are commonly attended by the ant, Lasius niger, while Ac. pisum usually remains uninfested. Sugar concentration and sugar composition of extrafloral nectar did not change significantly after aphid infestation. The sugar concentration was significantly higher in EFN (c. 271 µg µl–1) than in the honeydew of A. fabae (37.5 µg µl–1). The presence of small A. fabae colonies had no significant effect on ant attendance of EFN, which remained at the same level as that on plants without A. fabae. Obviously, there was no significant competitive effect between the two sugar sources. We suggest that the high sugar concentration in the extrafloral nectar may outweigh the higher quality (due to the presence of melezitose) and quantity of aphid honeydew. Ants and the presence of EFN influenced aphid colony growth. While A. fabae colonies generally grew better in the presence of ants, Ac. pisum colonies declined on plants with EFN or A. fabae colonies. We conclude that EFN may provide some degree of protection for V. faba against those sucking herbivores that are not able to attract ants.

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Engel, V., Fischer, M.K., Wäckers, F.L. et al. Interactions between extrafloral nectaries, aphids and ants: are there competition effects between plant and homopteran sugar sources?. Oecologia 129, 577–584 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1007/s004420100765

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Keywords

  • Vicia faba
  • Sugar composition
  • Aphis fabae
  • Acyrthosiphon pisum
  • Mutualistic interactions