Many tropical plants are defended by ants, and the costs and benefits of these mutualisms can vary across gradients of herbivory, soil fertility, latitude, and other environmental factors. Yet despite an abundant literature documenting thermal constraints on ant activity and behavior, we know little about whether temperature variation can influence the benefits conferred by ants to plants. We evaluated the effects of dawn‐to‐dusk fluctuations in temperature on patrolling and aggressive behavior in four arboreal ant mutualists of Acacia drepanolobium trees in central Kenya. We found that ant aggressive behavior significantly increased with branch surface temperature, primarily in the two most aggressive ant species: Crematogaster mimosae and C. nigriceps workers attacked a simulated herbivore at higher rates as surface temperature rose. In a browsing experiment, we found that goats browsed more frequently and for longer durations on C. mimosae‐defended trees during cooler times of day, while goat browsing on plants from which ants had been removed was not affected by temperature. Our study demonstrates temperature‐dependence in the efficacy of ant defense against herbivory and suggests that these ant‐plants may be more vulnerable to herbivory during cooler hours of the day, when many native browsers are most active.
Ecology – Wiley
Published: Jun 1, 2019
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