Data from: Ant–caterpillar antagonism at the community level: interhabitat variation of tritrophic interactions in a neotropical savanna
Sendoya, Sebastián; Oliveira, Paulo (2015), Data from: Ant–caterpillar antagonism at the community level: interhabitat variation of tritrophic interactions in a neotropical savanna, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.gh81t
1. Ant foraging on foliage can substantially affect how phytophagous insects use host plants and represents a high predation risk for caterpillars, which are important folivores. Ant–plant–herbivore interactions are especially pervasive in cerrado savanna due to continuous ant visitation to liquid food sources on foliage (extrafloral nectaries, insect honeydew). While searching for liquid rewards on plants, aggressive ants frequently attack or kill insect herbivores, decreasing their numbers. Because ants vary in diet and aggressiveness, their effect on herbivores also varies. Additionally, the differential occurrence of ant attractants (plant and insect exudates) on foliage produces variable levels of ant foraging within local floras and among localities. Here, we investigate how variation of ant communities and of traits among host plant species (presence or absence of ant attractants) can change the effect of carnivores (predatory ants) on herbivore communities (caterpillars) in a cerrado savanna landscape. We sampled caterpillars and foliage-foraging ants in four cerrado localities (70–460 km apart). We found that: (i) caterpillar infestation was negatively related with ant visitation to plants; (ii) this relationship depended on local ant abundance and species composition, and on local preference by ants for plants with liquid attractants; (iii) this was not related to local plant richness or plant size; (iv) the relationship between the presence of ant attractants and caterpillar abundance varied among sites from negative to neutral; and (v) caterpillars feeding on plants with ant attractants are more resistant to ant predation than those feeding on plants lacking attractants. Liquid food on foliage mediates host plant quality for lepidopterans by promoting generalized ant–caterpillar antagonism. Our study in cerrado shows that the negative effects of generalist predatory ants on herbivores are detectable at a community level, affecting patterns of abundance and host plant use by lepidopterans. The magnitude of ant-induced effects on caterpillar occurrence across the cerrado landscape may depend on how ants use plants locally and how they respond to liquid food on plants at different habitats. This study enhances the relevance of plant–ant and ant–herbivore interactions in cerrado and highlights the importance of a tritrophic perspective in this ant-rich environment.