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Red imported fire ant - Wikipedia

You will have to start growing the pea plants about 3 weeks prior to the beginning of the experiment. Each group of 3-4 students should have one pea plant. They can be potted in deli containers. Plants should be grown under plant lights and there should be extra plants in case something goes wrong. Aphids should be ordered about 2 weeks in advance. Upon receiving the aphids, they should be moved to a healthy pea plant and maintained throughout the duration of the experiment.

Interactions between ants and aphidophagous and coccidophagous ladybirds ..
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Understanding the effects of fire ants on crop production is crucial because fire ants are extremely abundant on farms in Alabama and other southern states and continue to spread into California and up the east coast. Fire ants have strong ecological effects because they reach extremely high densities and are voracious predators that consume large numbers of other arthropods. Some effects of fire ants may be beneficial to crop production because they may attack and suppress plant pests not currently controlled by natural enemies (predators and parasites). Some effects of fire ants, however, are likely to harm crop production because they may suppress populations of natural enemies that currently control economically serious pests. Although fire ants have been studied for many years, it is currently difficult to predict in which systems or under what conditions the effects of fire ants are likely to benefit or harm crop production. This project will take a novel experimental and modeling approach to understand and predict the effects of fire ants on crop production. Our most recent work suggests that the effects of fire ants on crop production may be predictable. We have found that fire ants have more intense and pervasive effects on pests when aphids are abundant. Fire ants and aphids form a mutualistic relationship in which fire ants vigorously protect aphids from predators and competitors (other pests) and, in exchange, aphids supply fire ants with a sugar-rich excretion called honeydew. Because cotton aphids cause very little damage to cotton plants, cotton aphids may result in increased cotton yield when they stimulate fire ant predation of more serious pests like caterpillars. We propose to test this hypothesis by developing and validating a quantitative model that will predict the effect of aphid – fire ant mutualisms on cotton yield. This model will be easily adapted to other agricultural as well as naturally-occurring systems to predict the effect of ant – aphid mutualisms on crop yield/plant fitness.

Disruption of Ant-Aphid Mutualism in Canopy …

Test the hypothesis that the aphid-fire ant mutualism results in decreased damage to cotton from caterpillars and increased yield.
Photo provided by Flickr

We confirmed that the loss of access to aphids can significantly suppress the activity of aphid-tending ants on the forest floor. Most studies on the ant-aphid interaction have only evaluated the impacts of ants on aphids , , . Recently, several studies have focused on the effects of hemiptera on ants , , , . We found that after the loss of aphids in the canopy, the ant abundance on the forest floor decreased by 27.4% in the large treated plot. This suggests that aphid presence in the canopy plays an important role in mediating the activity of ants on the forest floor. It is possible that the exclusion of ants from the canopy can make other food resources less available for ants, but according to our observation, L. fuliginosus rarely carried other insects down the tree, suggesting that their main interest in the canopy is aphids. L. fuliginosus feed not only on honeydew in the canopy, but also on trunks along with the aphid Stomaphis japonica, and probably from the roots of the host tree . This is one possible reason why the abundance of ants can stay at a high level in the large treated plots.

Many studies have found that aphid-tending ants have important impacts on plants and other insects that live on plants , , , suggesting that aphids can shape the arthropod community by attracting ants. Through a 3-year experimental study and a field survey, we confirmed that aphids also enhance the abundance of ants on the forest floor, thus leading to a decrease in the abundance of beetles on the ground. Our findings suggest that the ant-aphid mutualism in the canopy also has crucial ecological effects for the forest floor.

Ant-aphid mutualism is known to play a key role in the ..

We tested the hypothesis that aphid-attending ants defend their aphids against aphid-predators more aggressively than against ants from neighboring colonies.
Photo provided by Flickr

The key weakness of the present study is the pseudoreplication in the large plots , which reduced the reliability of our results. Finding comparable large plots with homogenous biotic and abiotic environments (such as the abundances of ants, beetles, spiders, and other arthropods, the size and densities of the focal tree species, canopy coverage, and so on) was quite difficult in the mountain ecosystem of the study area. As we showed in the field survey of the three transects, the spatial variation of arthropod abundance is very large. The abundances of arthropods show clear spatial gradient patterns. For example, in our study area, the paralleled transects T1 and T3 varied about 50 times in the abundance of ants, 19 times in the abundance of beetles, and 6 times in the abundance of spiders (). The spatial gradient pattern of arthropod abundances in our study area also hampers the establishment of comparable nearby large plots. Even with the above weakness, our results are reliable for several reasons. First, along the spatial gradient of the abundance of ants and other arthropods, we adopted a conservative experimental design to evaluate the effects of the ant-exclusion treatment. Second, through the sampling process in 2009, we confirmed that the abundances of ants, beetles, and spiders were homogenous in the sites for which we set up the two large plots in 2010 and 2011. Thus, the two sites are ideal for conducting the large plot ant-exclusion treatment. Compared to the pattern in the small plots, the difference between the two large plots in the abundance of ants and beetles after the treatment is quite clear, suggesting strong effects of the ant-exclusion treatment. Third, as a complement to the ant-exclusion experiment, the field survey results also suggest strong negative effects of ants on beetles in the study area. Based on the above argument, the study is reliable at a certain level and the results are meaningful as a preliminary study on the effects of the ant-aphid mutualism on other arthropods on the forest floor. We suggest that the sampling of aphids on the canopy, ants and other arthropods on the forest floor across a large number of sites may be a useful method to avoid the limitation of setting up large comparable plots in future studies.

Our study suggests that the aphid is an important factor shaping the structure of the arthropod community on the forest floor. The ant exclusion treatment decreased the abundance of ants on the forest floor, and the abundances of beetles significantly increased. In the field, a clear pattern appears where the abundances of beetles and spiders are strongly related to the abundance of ants (), suggesting negative effects of ants on the abundances of beetles and spiders. Sites with a high abundance of ants may not be suitable habitats for other arthropods such as beetles . A previous study found that the abundance of Carabids is largely suppressed by ants , and our research supports this argument. We observed that, on the forest floor, beetles were attacked by L. fuliginosus when they met. Although the experimental study results suggest a negative effect of ants on spiders, the effect was not significant. In the field survey, we also found that the negative relationship between spiders and ants was much weaker than the relationship between ants and beetles (). Ants and spiders are often competitors ; they can even prey on each other , which can complicate the outcomes of the ant-spider interaction. In our study site, we observed that spiders belonging to Opiliones often quickly ran away when they met L. fuliginosus, and the L. fuliginous also seemed to stay away from spiders. Therefore, the possible effect of ants on spiders (e.g., the effects on spider behavior) still needs further investigation. Given that Carabids are generalist predators in the terrestrial ecosystem , the cascade effects of those predators on other arthropods on the forest floor should be considered in future studies.

Aphids are distributed worldwide, but are most common in temperate zones
Photo provided by Flickr
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We excluded the aphid-tending ants Lasius fuliginosus from the ..

For each year, the effect of the aphid-exclusion treatment on the abundances of ants, beetles, spiders, and predators on the forest floor was analyzed. Then, the data from different years were averaged to evaluate the overall effects of the ant-exclusion treatment on the forest floor throughout our study period.

Disruption of Ant-Aphid Mutualism in Canopy Enhances …

In April of each year in the study (before the growing season), an adhesive ring was smeared around the trunk (about 1 m above the ground, and 5 cm in width) on all trees in the treatment plot to impede the access of ants to aphids on the canopy. The adhesive was made of a polymer resin mixture (Beijing Nonghaha S & T CO. LTD) and was nontoxic, harmless to plants, and non-attractive to insects. The adhesive was re-smeared every two months during the growing season until the end of the study. Any bridges that could allow ants to climb onto trees were cut off throughout the study.

Role of ants in structuring the aphid community on apple.

In 2009, we set up four pairs of plots (20*20 m) with a distance of at least 50 m between the adjacent pairs. For each pair, the left plot was set as the aphid exclusion plot and the other as the control plot (), with a distance of more than 15 m between the treated and control plots. We used this experimental design because, based on our observation, the abundance of ants decreased and other arthropod abundances increased from left to right in the study site (as the arrow shows in ). This was a conservative experimental design to test our hypothesis, as before the experiment, the ant abundance in the treated plots was higher than in the control plots. If the ant abundance in the treated plots was significantly lower than in the control plots after the treatment, we could confirm that the treatment significantly impacted the ant abundance. The tree density, leaf area index (LAI), and canopy coverage in the treated and control plots were not significantly different ().

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