Competition between honeydew producers in an ant-hemipteran interaction may enhance biological control of an invasive pest.
Asian citrus psyllid, Diaphorina citri Kuwayama (Hemiptera: Liviidae), is an invasive citrus pest in southern California, which secretes honeydew and has the potential to spread a lethal bacterial disease, huanglongbing, of citrus. In urban citrus, Argentine ant, Linepithema humile (Mayr) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), also an invasive pest, tends honeydew-producing hemipterans. We used field data to determine whether the mutualistic relationship between L. humile and six established species of honeydew producers may hinder or favor the establishment of D. citri and its biological control with Tamarixia radiata (Waterston) (Hymenoptera: Eulophidae) in citrus via competition or mutualism for ants, respectively. In the field, L. humile and D. citri are engaged in a mutualistic relationship. Ants harvest solid honeydew secreted by psyllid nymphs and tended more than 55% of observed D. citri colonies. Linepithema humile displayed a preference hierarchy when tending honeydew producers infesting citrus. It responded equally or less intensively to D. citri than to other honeydew-producing species. Consequently, the mutualism between L. humile and D. citri was affected by the presence of other honeydew-producing species, and the percentage of D. citri colonies tended by L. humile. The number of ants per D. citri colony also decreased as the number of other honeydew producers increased. Diaphorina citri density was also affected by the presence of other honeydew producers. Both colony size and the number of D. citri nymphs counted per tree decreased as the number of other honeydew producers increased. Our results indicate that competition between honeydew producers for the mutualist ant L. humile may hinder the establishment of D. citri by possibly facilitating increased biological control.