Differential transport of a guild of mutualistic root aphids by the ant Lasius flavus

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Mutually beneficial associations are widespread in ecological networks. They are typically assembled as multispecies guilds of symbionts that compete for one or more host species. The ant Lasius flavus engages in an intriguing and obligate mutualistic association with a community of aphids that are cultivated on plant roots in its nests. The ant displays a repertoire of amicable behaviors toward the aphids, including their transport. I examined whether L. flavus preferentially carried some of the root aphids. Using a no-choice and a choice experiment, I comparatively analyzed the transport rate of 5 obligate and one loosely associated species back to the ant nest and used the transport rate of the ant larvae as a reference. All associated root aphids were carried back to the nest, but in a clear preferential hierarchy. Geoica utricularia, Forda Formicaria, and Trama rara were rapidly transported, but slower than the own larvae. Tetraneura ulmi and Geoica setulosa were collected at a moderate rate and the loosely associated Aploneura lentisci was slowly retrieved. In contrast, different species of unassociated aphids were not transported and even provoked aggressive behavior in L. flavus. This study revealed that co-occurring symbionts may induce different degrees of host attraction, which ultimately may affect the coexistence and assembly of ant-symbiont communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-417
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Zoology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 22 Aug 2022


  • competition
  • Formicidae
  • honeydew
  • rescue behavior
  • symbiosis
  • trophobiont


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