Plant Ecology

, Volume 220, Issue 1, pp 125–134 | Cite as

Do novel interactions with local fauna have reproductive consequences for exotic plants? A case study with thistles, ants, aphids, and pollinators

  • Vanina R. ChalcoffEmail author
  • María Natalia Lescano
  • Andrés M. Devegili


Exotic plants are involved in different interactions with the fauna of the invaded sites, which can facilitate or limit their successful establishment and spread. Here, we evaluated the impact of native aphid-tending ants on the reproductive consequences of the invasive thistle Carduus thoermeri in NW Patagonia, which is frequently infested by aphids. We estimated the number and proportion of viable seeds, seed weight, germination proportion, and mean germination time of thistles in the presence and absence of aphids and ants, and with or without pollinator access. Aphid-infested thistles had 57% less viable seeds and 29% lower seed weight than non-infested thistles. Although ants and aphids had no effect on germination proportion, the mean germination time was ca. 15% faster in seeds from aphid-infested thistles. Our results suggest that the potential indirect effects of aphid-tending ants on thistles (negative effects via pollinator deterrence and positive effects via driving away non-aphid herbivores) are less important than the direct negative effects of aphids. Interestingly, although harboring aphids and ants has negative reproductive consequences for C. thoermeri plants, it could also generate a competitive advantage by giving rise to small and fast germinated seeds. This study illustrates the complexity of novel interactions among exotic plants and native ants, reinforcing the need for more studies to fully understand the potential impact of ant–plant interactions mediated by Hemiptera on the invasion success of plants.


Facilitation Invasion process Reproduction Seed germination 



The authors thank AG Farji-Brener, C Ezcurra, and A Toth for their critical reading and suggestions on an earlier version of this manuscript, and also JP Moreno for field assistance and Lic. PA Suarez for helping in seeds processing. AM Devegili is supported by a doctoral fellowship from the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas of Argentina, and MN Lescano and VR Chalcoff are scientific research members of the same institution. This research was partially funded by Agencia Nacional de Promoción Científica y Tecnológica (PICT 2015-0578).

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 548 kb)


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Laboratorio EcotonoINIBIOMA (CONICET - UNCOMA)BarilocheArgentina

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