Ant-Aphid Interactions

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Ants and aphids are two highly common and successful insect groups that often occur in the same habitats which greatly increases their chances of interacting with one another (Stadler and Dixon 2005). The outcome of these interactions can be either negative (predatory) or positive (mutualistic) depending on what each partner can offer to the other (Stadler and Dixon 2005). Mutualism is defined as an interaction between two species that has a reciprocal positive effect on the overall fitness of both partners (Stadler and Dixon 2005), but can also be viewed as complementary exploitation that results in net benefits for each partner (Flatt and Weisser 2000).
Many aphid species are partners in mutualistic relationships with several ant taxa (Flatt and Weisser 2000). The degree of this mutualism can be either obligate or facultative depending on several ecological and physiological factors (Stadler and Dixon 2005). Aphids produce nourishing, sugar-rich honeydew which ants can procure by stroking the aphids’ anus or nectar organ with their antennae (Yao and Akimoto 2001). In return, ants offer the aphids protection from predators and parasitoids (Yao and Akimoto 2001). Ants also can perform hygienic services for the aphid colony by removing exuviae and excrement which decreases the risk of fungal growth (Detrain et al. 2010). Honeydew-collecting ants involved in these interactions include the subfamilies Formicinae and Dolichoderinae, as well as several species in the Myrmica and Tetramorium genera of the Myrmicinae subfamily (Stadler and Dixon 2005).
Aphids are phytophagous homopterans that evolved about 280 million years ago in the Carboniferous and now comprise nearly 4000 extant species (Stadler and Dixon 2005). Their diet consists ...

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