Dynamics of the aphid-ant mutualism
Sammanfattning: An appreciation of the role of mutualism is essential when studying ecology and evolution in most ecosystems. Information covering aspects of mutualistic interactions can serve as a complement to the somewhat one-sided perspective from the 1950’s and 60’s that is used when teaching biology. In this thesis I applied an in-depth approach in which variation in the interspecific interaction between Aphis fabae aphids and Lasius niger ants was studied both in the field and in the laboratory. An emphasis was put on studies spanning several consecutive aphid generations. This approach revealed important differences between ant tended aphids and those without ants. In the lab, I found an initial decrease in aphid adult size and reproductive investment in the first generations after the start of ant tending, which was followed by a recovery to the pre-tending situation after about four generations. Another laboratory experiment showed an increase in alate (winged aphid) production from exposure to aphid alarm pheromones, and an even stronger decrease in alate production from ant attendance, suggesting that ants have gained the upper hand in an evolutionary conflict over aphid dispersal. Results from a field experiment further emphasized the possibility of negative effects of ants on aphids, showing that ant-tended aphid colonies experienced a higher rate of parasitoid attacks, produced fewer alates and embryos in adult aphids. The thesis highlights the scope for variation in the net effect of the interaction for aphids, and argues that, depending on the environmental circumstances, the interaction may sometimes and perhaps even often not really be a case of mutualism.
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