Differential host use in two highly specialized ant-plant associations: Evidence from stable isotopes

S. T. Trimble, C. L. Sagers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes were used to examine variation in ant use of plant resources in the Cecropia obtusifolia / Azteca spp. association in Costa Rica. Tissue of ants, host plants and symbiotic pseudococcids were collected along three elevation transects on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica's Cordillera Central, and were analyzed for carbon and nitrogen isotopic composition. Worker carbon and nitrogen signatures were found to vary with elevation and ant colony size, and between Azteca species groups. Ants in the A. constructor species group appear to be opportunistic foragers at low elevations, but rely more heavily on their host plants at high elevations, whereas ants in the A. alfari species group consume a more consistent diet across their distribution. Further, isotope values indicate that both ant species groups acquire more nitrogen from higher trophic levels at low elevation and when ant colonies are small. Provisioning by the host is a substantial ecological cost to the interaction, and it may vary, even in a highly specialized association. Nonetheless, not all specialized interactions are equivalent; where interaction with one ant species group appears conditional upon the environment, the other is not. Differential host use within the Cecropia-Azteca association suggests that the ecological and evolutionary benefits and costs of association may vary among species pairs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-82
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Azteca
  • Cecropia
  • Conditional mutualism
  • Costa Rica
  • Stable isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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