Ant protection of extrafloral nectar (EFN)-secreting plants is a common form of mutualism found in most habitats around the world. However, very few studies have considered these mutualisms from the ant, rather than the plant, perspective. In particular, a whole-colony perspective that takes into account the spatial structure and nest arrangement of the ant colonies that visit these plants has been lacking, obscuring when and how colony-level foraging decisions might affect tending rates on individual plants. Here, we experimentally demonstrate that recruitment of Crematogaster opuntiae (Buren) ant workers to the EFN-secreting cactus Ferocactus wislizeni (Englem) is not independent between plants up to 5 m apart. Colony territories of C. opuntiae are large, covering areas of up to 5,000 m2, and workers visit between five and 34 EFN-secreting barrel cacti within the territories. These ants are highly polydomous, with up to 20 nest entrances dispersed throughout the territory and interconnected by trail networks. Our study demonstrates that worker recruitment is not independent within large polydomous ant colonies, highlighting the importance of considering colonies rather than individual workers as the relevant study unit within ant/plant protection mutualisms.
- Extrafloral nectar
- Social insects
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics