Thermal Ecology of Mutualism: The Consequences of Temperature for Ant-Plant Interactions
AuthorFitzpatrick, Ginny M.
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
AdvisorBronstein, Judith L.
MetadataShow full item record
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
RightsCopyright © is held by the author. Digital access to this material is made possible by the University Libraries, University of Arizona. Further transmission, reproduction or presentation (such as public display or performance) of protected items is prohibited except with permission of the author.
AbstractMutualism is an often-complex positive interaction between species, each of which responds independently to varying biotic and abiotic conditions. Temperature is an important factor that can affect species both directly (e.g., physiologically) and indirectly (e.g., via its effects on interactions with consumers, competitors, and mutualists). Although much research has investigated the consequences of temperature for individual organisms, the effects of temperature on the formation, dissolution, and success of species interactions remain minimally understood. The unique ways in which species respond to temperature likely play a role in structuring communities. Environmental heterogeneity, including the thermal environment, can promote coexistence when species exploit resources in different ways, such as by occupying different thermal niches. This dissertation examines the consequences of temperature for participants in an ant-plant protection mutualism, and investigates how the thermal ecology of individual species affects the interaction. Many mutualisms involve multiple species, or interacting guilds. In these mutualisms, species interact with partner species that vary in multiple characteristics. Mutualists are quite sensitive to both partner quantity and partner quality (e.g., their effectiveness at performing a beneficial task). Mutualisms between ants and plants are common across a variety of habitats worldwide, which differ in thermal range, fluctuation, and seasonality. In light of ants’ well-studied and predictable responses to temperature, ant-plant interaction networks provide excellent systems for studying the thermal ecology of mutualisms. In ant-plant protection mutualisms, each of the participants (ants, plants, and enemies) likely differs in its response to temperature. In addition to the direct effects of temperature on ant species, temperature may affect the magnitude of mutualistic interactions among species by affecting the quantity and quality of the reward offered to partners, and the activity of the partners themselves and the plant’s enemies (i.e., herbivores). If herbivores are more thermally tolerant than the mutualistic ant defenders, the consequences for plants may well be severe; however, if herbivores are less thermally tolerant than are the ants, the effects of rising temperatures might be mitigated: although less-effective ants might be more frequent in a warmer world, herbivores would be less abundant there. This dissertation describes the thermal ecology of the participants in a mutualism between the cactus Ferocactus wislizeni and four of its common ant defenders (Forelius pruinosus, Crematogaster opuntiae, Solenopsis aurea, and Solenopsis xyloni) in the extreme environment of the Sonoran Desert, USA. The ants are attracted to extrafloral nectar produced by the plant, and in exchange protect the plants from herbivores, including a common phytophagous cactus bug, Narnia pallidicornis (Hemiptera: Coreidae). Specifically, it investigates how thermal ecology of the individual species affects the interactions among those species. Also, it considers the impact of a tradeoff between behavioral dominance and thermal tolerance among ants.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Ecology & Evolutionary Biology