Impact of African Weaver Ant Nests [Oecophylla longinoda Latreille (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)] on Mango [Mangifera indica L. (Sapindales: Anacardiaceae)] Leaves
Keywords:weaver ants, leaf performance, biocontrol, ant nests, plant costs, Benin
Oecophylla ants are appreciated for their control of pests in plantation crops. However, the ants´ nest building may have negative impacts on trees. In this study we tested the effect of ant densities and nest building on the leaf performance of mango trees. Trees were divided into three groups: trees without ants, trees with low and trees with high ant densities. Subsequently, the total number of leaves, the proportion of leaves used for nest construction, and tree growth was compared between these groups. The percentage of leaves used for nests was between 0.42-1.2 % (mean = 0.7%±0.02) and the total number of leaves and tree growth was not significantly different between trees with and without ants. Further, leaf performance was compared between shoots with and without ant nests and between leaves in or outside ant nests. The number of leaves and lost leaves per shoot, leaf size, leaf condition (withered), leaf longevity and hemipteran infection was compared between groups. In the dry season nest-shoots held more leaves than shoots without nests despite nest-shoots showed more lost leaves. Leaves in nests were smaller than other leaves, more likely to wither and more often infested with scales. However, smaller nest-leaf size was probably due to the ants´ preference for young leaves and the higher incidence of withering resulting as leaves in nests cannot fall to the ground. In conclusion, the costs associated to ant nests were low and did not affect the overall number of leaves per tree nor tree growth.
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