The effects of ants on herbivory and herbivore numbers on foliage of the mallee eucalypt, Eucalyptus incrassata Labill.

DUNCAN A. MACKAY

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Abstract

Although there has been much recent interest in ant‐plant mutualisms, few data are available on the effects of foraging ants on herbivore numbers and levels of herbivory on plants that do not offer specific inducements to attract ant visitation. In forestry plantations and tropical crops, ants have erratic but sometimes dramatic effects on the numbers of insect herbivores but, in more natural habitats, their effects on levels of herbivory appear to be largely unknown. In Australia, where ants and Eucalyptus woodlands are ubiquitous and abundant and where considerable debate has occurred regarding levels of herbivory in Eucalyptus forests, very little work has been done to examine the effects of ants on densities of insect herbivores on eucalypts. In this study, ants were experimentally excluded from mature and immature foliage of saplings of the mallee Eucalyptus incrassata in South Australia, and herbivore numbers and levels of leaf herbivory were assessed during the next 6 months. No significant differences in herbivory were found between ant‐access and ant‐exclusion treatments. In spring and early summer, ants were found in associations with aggregations of eurymelid bugs on young foliage, and the effects of ants on bug densities were experimentally investigated. Bug densities decreased rapidly in ant‐exclusion treatments compared with ant‐access controls. Ants also quickly removed seeds of E. incrassata from experimental caches. The potential of ants to limit the numbers of insect herbivores on eucalypts seems limited given their tendency to form mutualistic associations with sap‐feeding Homopterans and because of a lack of other herbivores that are particularly vulnerable to ant predation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)471-483
Number of pages13
JournalAustralian Journal of Ecology
Volume16
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 1991

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