Wood Ant (Formica polyctena) Services and Disservices in a Danish Apple Plantation
Keywords:Integrated pest management, winter moth, plant pathogens, fertilization, ant-aphid mutualism, apple diseases.
Ants possess properties that can be used to optimize plant production in agricultural systems. Ant services can be herbivore and pathogen protection and fertilization of their plant partners. They may, however, also harm plants by facilitating ant-attended herbivorous homopterans. To assess whether wood ants can be used in IPM-systems to improve apple production, we transplanted wood ants into a Danish apple plantation and tested whether ants (i) reduced the number of herbivores, (ii) led to higher amounts of leaf nutrients, (iii) controlled apple pathogens, (iv) increased homopteran abundance and (iv) whether these effects affected apple yields. During a two year study, we found that the wood ants significantly reduced the numbers of winter moth larvae, increased magnesium content in apple leaves (but did not affect 10 other nutrients), reduced the number of apples infected with apple brown rot and apple scab (on one apple variety) and increased aphid infections. In the first year, this led to higher apple production on ant trees, whereas ants had no effect on yields in the second year. It was evident that ants provided both services and disservices. If mutualistic ant-homopteran interactions can be disrupted, this would favor plant growth and open for the use of wood ants in sustainable plant management. We discuss how this may be accomplished. Alternatively, ants may be used short term to knock down pest outbreaks (before building up homopteran populations) or used in crops that do not host ant-attended homopterans.
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