Ant-mealybug mutualism modulates the performance of co-occurring herbivores
Mutualistic interactions among species play important roles in mediating the dynamics and diversity of niche-related community1,2. The mutualism between ant and honeydew-producing hemipterans has been well documented in multiple ecosystems3,4,5, based on the defensive and aggressive activity of ants on sympatric herbivores by providing nutritious carbohydrate, which may severely interfere with the balance and stability of ecological communities6,7. Early work has exposed the positive and reciprocal effects of mutualism on the colonization and development of both species involved in the mutual interaction8,9. Currently, some studies have illuminated the ecological influence of ant-hemipteran mutualism on other co-occurring community members6,10,11. Ant diversity and aggressiveness can directly modulate the effects of the mutualism on the surrounding community12, affecting the ambient feed groups composed by predators and other arthropod specie6, in which of the abundance of arthropod species significantly decrease on trees with ant-hemipteran mutualism13.