Acacia Ants Respond to Plant-Borne Vibrations Caused by Mammalian Browsers.

Affiliation

Ruhr University Bochum, Universitätsstr. 150, Bochum 44780, Germany. Electronic address: [Email]

Abstract

Living in the African savanna is dangerous, especially for plants. Many plants therefore engage in mutualism with ants, in which plants provide food and shelter in exchange for protection against herbivores. Ants become alarmed when the plant takes on some sort of damage. They immediately emerge from their plant shelter and aggressively defend the plant. Mammalian herbivores can have devastating effects on trees by browsing, breaking tree branches, stripping bark, and pushing over entire trees. However, mutualistic ants substantially reduce the amount of damage. To efficiently protect the tree, ants need to rapidly react together when the tree is under attack. Here, we show that the acacia ant Crematogaster mimosae defends its host tree by exploiting plant-borne vibrations caused by browsers feeding on the tree. Experiments with controlled vibrations show that ants discriminate browser-induced vibrations from those induced by wind, become alarmed, and patrol on the branches. Browser-induced vibrations serve as a long-distance alarm cue. The vibrations propagate through the whole acacia tree and trigger ants' defensive behavior, even on the other side of the tree. Furthermore, the ants make use of tropotactic directional vibration sensing to orient to the attacked part of the tree and fight back the attacker.

Keywords

acacia ants,biotremology,communication,defense behavior,directional vibration sensing,mutualism,orientation,social insects,tropotaxis,

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