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Effects of Aggregation Size and Host Plant on the Survival of an Ant-Tended Membracid (Hemiptera: Membracidae): Potential Roles in Selecting for Generalized Host Plant Use

Reithel, J.S., Campbell, D.R.
Annals of the Entomological Society of America 2008 v.101 no.1 pp. 70-78
Membracidae, Formica, mutualism, nymphs, aggregation behavior, population density, host plants, host range, Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus, Wyethia, spatial variation, mortality, insect development, Formica obscuripes
Insect herbivores that are tended by ants exhibit a range in host plant use from specialists to extreme generalists. Potential factors that may influence relative suitability of different host plants include the presence or absence of ants and the size of aggregations formed by nymphs feeding on a host. We used a membracid-ant mutualism to test whether presence of ants or aggregation size (from 20 to 320 nymphs per plant) resulted in variable selection for host use by the generalist membracid Publilia modesta (Uhler) (Hemiptera: Membracidae) that feeds on host species Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus (Hook.) Nutt. and Wyethia spp., among others. Survival of nymphs as mid-instars and the percentage of nymphs developing into adults on C. viscidiflorus were greater for nymphs in small than in large aggregations. Survival of nymphs as mid-instars on Wyethia spp. was also greater in smaller aggregations, but the percentage of nymphs developing into adults was independent of aggregation size. The presence of the tending ant, Formica obscuripes Forel, had no effect on the percentage of nymphs developing into adults during this experiment. The survival of membracids on C. viscidiflorus was always greater than survival of membracids on Wyethia spp., regardless of aggregation size or presence of ants; the favored host did not vary in a way that would explain the observed generalized host plant use. C. viscidiflorus was a superior host plant, because it senesced after nymphs became adults, whereas Wyethia spp. senesced early enough that most nymphs died before reaching adulthood.