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Ants suppressing plant pathogens: a review

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  • Ants

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Ant–plant mutualisms are usually regarded as driven by ants defending plants against herbivores in return for plant-produced food rewards and housing. However, ants may provide additional services. In a review of published studies on ant–pathogen–plant interactions, we investigated whether ants’ extensive hygiene measures, including the use of ant-produced antibiotics, extend to their host plants and reduce plant pathogen loads. From 30 reported species combinations, we found that the presence of ants lead to reduced pathogen levels in 18 combinations and to increased levels in 6. On average, ants significantly reduced pathogen incidence with 59%. This effect size did not differ significantly from effect sizes reported from meta-analyses on herbivore protection. Thus, pathogen and herbivore protection could be of equal importance in ant–plant mutualisms. Considering the abundance of these interactions, ecological impacts are potentially high. Furthermore, awareness of this service may stimulate the development of new measures to control plant diseases in agriculture. It should be noted, though, that studies were biased toward tropical ant–plant symbioses and that the literature in the field is limited at present. Future research on plant pathogens is needed to enhance our understanding of ant–plant mutualisms and their evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1691-1703
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019

    Research areas

  • ANTIFUNGAL, BACTERIA, HYMENOPTERA-FORMICIDAE, INDIRECT DEFENSE, MANDIBULAR GLAND, METAPLEURAL GLAND SECRETION, MUTUALISM, PEST-MANAGEMENT, PROTECTION, WEAVER ANT, ant antibiotics, ant-plant mutualism, ant-plant-pathogen interactions, biological control, fungal plant pathogens

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