Ant-plant sociometry in the Azteca-Cecropia mutualism

Peter R. Marting, Nicole M. Kallman, William T. Wcislo, Stephen Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


A holistic understanding of superorganism biology requires study of colony sociometry, or the quantitative relationships among growth, nest architecture, morphology, and behavior. For ant colonies that obligately nest within plant hosts, their sociometry is likely intertwined with the plant, which has implications for the evolution, strength, and stability of the mutualism. In the Azteca-Cecropia mutualism, plants provide ants with food rewards and hollow stems for nesting in return for protection from herbivores. Several interesting questions arise when considering ant-plant sociometry: are colony growth and plant growth synchronized? How do colonies distribute themselves within the stem of their host plant? How do plant traits influence worker morphology? How is collective personality related to tree structure, nest organization, and worker morphology? To address these questions, we investigated patterns within and relationships among five major sociometric categories of colonies in the field – plant traits, colony size, nest organization, worker morphology, and collective personality. We found that colony sociometry was intimately intertwined with host plant traits. Colony and plant growth rates were synchronized, suggesting that positive feedback between plant and colony growth stabilizes the mutualism. The colony’s distribution inside the host tree tended to follow leaf growth, with most workers, brood, and the queen in the top half of the tree. Worker morphology correlated with plant size instead of colony size or age, which suggests that plant traits influence worker development. Colony personality was independent of colony distribution and tree structure but may correlate with worker size such that colonies with smaller, less variable workers had more aggressive personalities. This study provides insights into how ant-plant structural relationships may contribute to plant protection and the strength of mutualisms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number17968
JournalScientific reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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