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Title: The ecology and evolution of ant-aphid interactions
Author: Oliver, Thomas Henry
ISNI:       0000 0004 2686 9273
Awarding Body: Imperial College London
Current Institution: Imperial College London
Date of Award: 2008
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The evolution of species interactions is a fascinating subject, and one of vital importance if we are to understand how biological communities change over time. This thesis considers the interaction between aphids (Homoptera) and ants (Formicidae). Ants tend aphids for sugary honeydew and in return provide a variety of protective services. A literature review in Chapter 1 introduces the subject and provides background information. Chapter 2 considers ant- aphid interactions in a community setting. Specifically, I consider the fitness effects of the ant- aphid interaction on host plants. Net benefits or costs to plants depend on the densities of ants and aphids; these densities may themselves change depending on context dependent factors. Chapters 3 and 4 consider how semiochemicals can allow species to respectively maintain or avoid synchrony in space and time with mutualists or antagonists. Chapter 3 shows ladybirds avoid prey patches guarded by ants by reducing oviposition in response to ant semiochemicals. Chapter 4 shows that aphid walking dispersal can be limited by ant semiochemicals. This may be adaptive for aphids to remain in areas of enemy- free space. Alternatively, if levels of kin competition are high limited dispersal could be costly to aphids. In Chapter 5 I consider interactions between invasive and native ants. Ecological dominance in ants may be mediated by the ability to monopolise honeydew- producing resources. Chapter 6 explores ants’ decisions whether to tend or prey upon aphids. Predation of aphids depends on colony demand (e.g. through cues from the presence of larvae) as well as the quality or quantity of supply (e.g. increased predation of unproductive aphids). Finally, Chapter 7 deals with macroevolutionary patterns in the interaction between ants and aphids. Specifically, I identify ecological traits that characterise aphid- tending ants. A final discussion chapter summarises how ant-aphid interactions fit into existing mutualism theory.
Supervisor: Cook, James ; Leather, Simon Sponsor: BBSRC
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral