The response of an aphid tending ant to artificial extra-floral nectaries on different host plants
Sap-feeding homopterans, which reduce the fitness of their host plants, are often tended by ants that feed on their honeydew. The composition of the honeydew varies with both the aphid and the host plant. Extra-floral nectaries (EFNs) are believed to have evolved to attract attending ants, protecting the hosts, but it is unknown if EFNs on different plants have the same impact on the relations between an aphid species feeding on those plants and its tending ant. Experimental research was conducted to examine the attraction of Tapinoma erraticum scout ants to honeydew from the aphid Aphis gossypii feeding on two different plants, Prunus amygdalus and Mentha piperita, negligence of tending the aphids, and survival of the aphids in the presence of artificial EFNs. The scout ants were significantly more attracted to artificial nectar dispensed on P. amygdalus leaves than on M. piperita, or aphids on both plants and water. They neglected aphids in the presence of artificial EFNs on M. piperita but not on P. amygdalus. The aphid population on M. piperita did not statistically change in the presence of artificial EFNs during the 8 days of the third experiment. On P. amygdalus, the aphids succeeded in developing fully to winged form. In conclusion, the responses of the ants tending aphids to the presence of artificial EFNs were influenced by the host plant. © 2011 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.