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Abstract,  Proceedings - Biological Sciences, 2007

Interactions between ants and honeydew-producing hemipteran insects are abundant and widespread in arthropod food webs, yet their ecological consequences are very poorly known. Ant–hemipteran interactions have potentially broad ecological effects, because the presence of honeydew-producing hemipterans dramatically alters the abundance and predatory behaviour of ants on plants. We review several studies that investigate the consequences of ant–hemipteran interactions as ‘keystone interactions’ on arthropod communities and their host plants. Ant–hemipteran interactions have mostly negative effects on the local abundance and species richness of several guilds of herbivores and predators. In contrast, out of the 30 studies that document the effects of ant–hemipteran interactions on plants, the majority (73%) shows that plants actually benefit indirectly from these interactions. In these studies, increased predation or harassment of other, more damaging, herbivores by hemipteran-tending ants resulted in decreased plant damage and/or increased plant growth and reproduction. The ecological consequences of mutualistic interactions between honeydew-producing hemipterans and invasive ants relative to native ants have rarely been studied, but they may be of particular importance owing to the greater abundance, aggressiveness and extreme omnivory of invasive ants. We argue that ant–hemipteran interactions are largely overlooked and underappreciated interspecific interactions that have strong and pervasive effects on the communities in which they are embedded.

Keywords: ants, hemipterans, mutualism, indirect effects, tritrophic interactions, conditionality