Catalpa bignonioides alters extrafloral nectar production after herbivory and attracts ant bodyguards

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Inducible anti-herbivore defenses are found within many plant taxa, but there are fewer examples of inducible indirect defenses that incorporate the third trophic level. This study links caterpillar foraging, herbivore-induced changes in extrafloral nectar production, and the attraction of ants to vulnerable leaves and plants. Catalpa bignonioides Walter (Bignoniaceae) uses extrafloral nectar to attract ant (Forelius pruinosus (Roger)) bodyguards in response to Ceratomia catalpae (Boisduval)(Lepidoptera: Sphingidae) herbivory. Ant density per leaf increased with the sugar content of extrafloral nectar excreted by sampled leaves, suggesting that increased nectar production could attract or retain beneficial arthropods. The masses of sucrose, fructose, glucose and all three sugars combined in the extrafloral nectar increased two- to three-fold on attacked leaves within 36 h of the experimental addition of caterpillars. Production rates for neighboring non-attacked leaves and non-attacked leaves on adjacent plants did not differ over the same time period. Ant attendance at caterpillarattacked leaves increased two- to three-fold within 24 h of herbivory, relative to attendance at neighboring, undamaged leaves. These attacked leaves attracted the fewest ants prior to the onset of herbivory, suggesting the specialist caterpillar may avoid or be excluded from leaves with more bodyguards. The removal of leaf tissue with scissors did not alter ant attendance at damaged leaves. Mean ant attendance per leaf on attacked plants increased 6- to 10-fold after caterpillar introduction, relative to adjacent unattacked plants. The plant's biotic defense thus operates at two scales; the number of bodyguards (ant workers) on the plant increases after attack, and this increased workforce is biased towards attacked leaves within plants. Fewer caterpillars remained on plants that attracted greater numbers of ants, suggesting these bodyguards benefit the plant.




Ness, J. H. (2003). Catalpa bignonioides alters extrafloral nectar production after herbivory and attracts ant bodyguards. Oecologia, 134(2), 210–218.

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