Joachim Offenberg

Urea in Weaver Ant Feces: Quantification and Investigation of the Uptake and Translocation of Urea in Coffea Arabica

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Weaver ants are tropical insects that nest in tree canopies, and for centuries these ants have been used for pest control in tropical orchards. Trees hosting weaver ants might benefit not only from the pest protective properties of these insects but also an additional supply of nutrients from ant feces deposited on the leaves. In a recent study, we demonstrated that Coffea arabica plants hosting Oecophylla smaragdina weaver ants under laboratory conditions experienced enhanced nitrogen availability compared with plants grown without ants. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to further investigate the interactions of weaver ants with the host plants with respect to plant nutrition. Here, we report the identification and quantification of urea, a highly effective foliar nutrient present in the fecal depositions of O. smaragdina. Feces samples obtained from six O. smaragdina colonies were analyzed, and urea concentrations ranging from 1.98 to 31.05 μg/mg ant feces were detected. Subsequently, we investigated the uptake and translocation of 15N2-urea in amounts corresponding to the estimated urea contribution via feces depositions on single host plant leaves under laboratory conditions. The results clearly demonstrated that fecal urea was not only assimilated but also translocated within the plant. This evidence strongly supports the hypothesis that the fecal urea of weaver ants is a source of nitrogen for the host trees. Thus, weaver ant feces likely contribute to an improved nutritional status of ant-hosting trees in tropical orchards, thereby adding value to the use of weaver ants for the biocontrol of insect pests.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Plant Growth Regulation
Pages (from-to)803-814
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2016

    Research areas

  • Coffea arabica, Oecophylla smaragdina, weaver ants, foliar nutrient, urea quantification, nitrogen nutrients

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