The effect of wasps and ants on the reproductive success of the extrafloral nectaried plant Turnera ulmifolia (Turneraceae).
To assess the effectiveness of extrafloral nectaries (EFN) as a defensive mechanism of plants, it is vital to use a multiple interactions approach and assess the contribution of all visiting species and their interactions. The effect of EFN-visiting ants (Camponotus planatus, Camponotus abdominalis, Conomyrma [Dorymyrmex] sp., Crematogaster brevispinosa, Forelius sp., Pseudomyrmex sp.) and wasps (Polistes instabilis, Polybia occidentalis) on the reproductive success (estimated as the number of reproductive structures) of T. ulmifolia was experimentally evaluated. Herbivory effects were tested using Euptoieta hegesia larvae, which is the main herbivore of this plant. The study was done in a coastal sand dune scrub in Veracruz, México. Wasps and ants were selectively excluded using a two-factor design (wasps and ants) block design, both factors with two levels (absent or present). The response variables were an index of herbivory per branch and the number of buds, flowers, ripe and unripe fruits per plant, and the seed:fruit ratio per branch. After a week of placing the larvae on experimental plants, they were significantly more frequent on plants where wasps and ants had been experimentally excluded. Wasp presence was associated significantly with greater numbers of buds, flowers, ripe fruit and seeds. When acting separately, wasps and ants exerted a positive effect in decreasing herbivory levels and increasing the number of unripe fruit; when acting together, however, their effect was not additive. This is the first demonstration of a positive effect on the plant by wasps associated with EFN. The ecological implication of this finding is that the function of EFN and the ultimate effects on a plant will probably depend on the array of organisms visiting its EFN.