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Multiple phenotypic traits as triggers of host attacks towards ant symbionts: body size, morphological gestalt, and chemical mimicry accuracy

Beeren, Christoph von ; Brückner, Adrian ; Hoenle, Philipp O. ; Ospina-Jara, Bryan ; Kronauer, Daniel J. C. ; Blüthgen, Nico (2021):
Multiple phenotypic traits as triggers of host attacks towards ant symbionts: body size, morphological gestalt, and chemical mimicry accuracy.
In: Frontiers in zoology, 18 (1), p. 46. ISSN 1742-9994,
DOI: 10.1186/s12983-021-00427-8,
[Article]

Abstract

BACKGROUND

Ant colonies are plagued by a diversity of arthropod guests, which adopt various strategies to avoid or to withstand host attacks. Chemical mimicry of host recognition cues is, for example, a common integration strategy of ant guests. The morphological gestalt and body size of ant guests have long been argued to also affect host hostility, but quantitative studies testing these predictions are largely missing. We here evaluated three guest traits as triggers of host aggression-body size, morphological gestalt, and accuracy in chemical mimicry-in a community of six Eciton army ant species and 29 guest species. We quantified ant aggression towards 314 guests in behavioral assays and, for the same individuals, determined their body size and their accuracy in mimicking ant cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profiles. We classified guests into the following gestalts: protective, myrmecoid, staphylinid-like, phorid-like, and larval-shaped. We expected that (1) guests with lower CHC mimicry accuracy are more frequently attacked; (2) larger guests are more frequently attacked; (3) guests of different morphological gestalt receive differing host aggression levels.

RESULTS

Army ant species had distinct CHC profiles and accuracy of mimicking these profiles was variable among guests, with many species showing high mimicry accuracy. Unexpectedly, we did not find a clear relationship between chemical host similarity and host aggression, suggesting that other symbiont traits need to be considered. We detected a relationship between the guests' body size and the received host aggression, in that diminutive forms were rarely attacked. Our data also indicated that morphological gestalt might be a valuable predictor of host aggression. While most ant-guest encounters remained peaceful, host behavior still differed towards guests in that ant aggression was primarily directed towards those guests possessing a protective or a staphylinid-like gestalt.

CONCLUSION

We demonstrate that CHC mimicry accuracy does not necessarily predict host aggression towards ant symbionts. Exploitation mechanisms are diverse, and we conclude that, besides chemical mimicry, other factors such as the guests' morphological gestalt and especially their body size might be important, yet underrated traits shaping the level of host hostility against social insect symbionts.

Item Type: Article
Erschienen: 2021
Creators: Beeren, Christoph von ; Brückner, Adrian ; Hoenle, Philipp O. ; Ospina-Jara, Bryan ; Kronauer, Daniel J. C. ; Blüthgen, Nico
Title: Multiple phenotypic traits as triggers of host attacks towards ant symbionts: body size, morphological gestalt, and chemical mimicry accuracy
Language: English
Abstract:

BACKGROUND

Ant colonies are plagued by a diversity of arthropod guests, which adopt various strategies to avoid or to withstand host attacks. Chemical mimicry of host recognition cues is, for example, a common integration strategy of ant guests. The morphological gestalt and body size of ant guests have long been argued to also affect host hostility, but quantitative studies testing these predictions are largely missing. We here evaluated three guest traits as triggers of host aggression-body size, morphological gestalt, and accuracy in chemical mimicry-in a community of six Eciton army ant species and 29 guest species. We quantified ant aggression towards 314 guests in behavioral assays and, for the same individuals, determined their body size and their accuracy in mimicking ant cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) profiles. We classified guests into the following gestalts: protective, myrmecoid, staphylinid-like, phorid-like, and larval-shaped. We expected that (1) guests with lower CHC mimicry accuracy are more frequently attacked; (2) larger guests are more frequently attacked; (3) guests of different morphological gestalt receive differing host aggression levels.

RESULTS

Army ant species had distinct CHC profiles and accuracy of mimicking these profiles was variable among guests, with many species showing high mimicry accuracy. Unexpectedly, we did not find a clear relationship between chemical host similarity and host aggression, suggesting that other symbiont traits need to be considered. We detected a relationship between the guests' body size and the received host aggression, in that diminutive forms were rarely attacked. Our data also indicated that morphological gestalt might be a valuable predictor of host aggression. While most ant-guest encounters remained peaceful, host behavior still differed towards guests in that ant aggression was primarily directed towards those guests possessing a protective or a staphylinid-like gestalt.

CONCLUSION

We demonstrate that CHC mimicry accuracy does not necessarily predict host aggression towards ant symbionts. Exploitation mechanisms are diverse, and we conclude that, besides chemical mimicry, other factors such as the guests' morphological gestalt and especially their body size might be important, yet underrated traits shaping the level of host hostility against social insect symbionts.

Journal or Publication Title: Frontiers in zoology
Volume of the journal: 18
Issue Number: 1
Divisions: 10 Department of Biology
10 Department of Biology > Ecological Networks
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2021 11:39
DOI: 10.1186/s12983-021-00427-8
Identification Number: pmid:34538256
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