Variation in the ecological consequences of fire ant - aphid mutualisms.
Eubanks, Micky*,1, Styrsky, John1, Cooper, Laura1, Kaplan, Ian2, Harvey, Chad3, 1 Auburn University, Auburn, AL2 University of Maryland, College Park3 University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison
ABSTRACT- Understanding variation in complex trophic interactions is a major goal of community ecology and is necessary to predict the efficacy of biological control programs involving multiple natural enemies. Identifying factors that affect variation in the strength of trophic interactions, however, is often extremely challenging. We quantified variation in the ecological consequences of a widespread mutualism involving red imported fire ants (Solenopsis invicta and aphids in four agroecosystems (cotton, soybean, collards, and tomato). We found that this positive species interaction played a major role in determining the magnitude of important predator prey interactions and the ultimate success of biological control in these crops. The consequences of the mutualism, however, varied among the four crops. Aphid abundance, aphid species, antipredator behavior of prey, and overall arthropod community composition explained significant amounts of the variation in the ecological consequences of fire ant - aphid mutualisms. This work suggests that variation in ant - aphid mutualisms may explain a substantial portion of the variation in arthropod community structure in fire ant infested areas.
Key words: Mutualism, Solenopsis invicta, fire ant, aphid
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