Many plants have mutualistic relationships with ants, whereby plants provide food and/or nesting sites for the symbiotic ants, and in turn the ants protect the host plants by excluding herbivores. While the ants are useful as guards, they may negatively affect host reproduction by excluding pollinators. Here we studied this potential conflict in the myrmecophytic Macaranga winkleri pollinated by the thrips Dolichothrips fialae. Behavioural responses of ant guards to pollinator thrips and their chemicals, and related chemical analyses, provide evidence that thrips deter ant-guards by secreting droplets containing ant-repelling n-decanoic acid from their anuses. This is the first report of insect pollinators repelling their host’s symbiotic guard ants to perform pollination. This is a novel strategy by which a plant host avoids interference with pollination by ant-guards in an ant–plant mutualism. The acquisition of a pollination system that is resistant to ant attacks may have facilitated the evolution of myrmecophytes in the genus Macaranga.
- Anal secretion
- Ant–pollinator conflict