Plant Protection as a Consequence of an Ant-Membracid Mutualism: Interactions on Goldenrod (Solidago sp.)
In central New York, two chrysomelid beetles, Trirhabda virgata and T. borealis, frequently cause severe defoliation of tall goldenrod, Solidago altissima. This plant is also the primary host of Publilia concava (Membracidae), a sap—feeding treehopper that is tended by ants, especially Formica spp. Staged encounters indicate that Formica ants attack adult Trirhabda beetles on goldenrod stems bearing membracids. Such stems escape defoliation by Trirhabda, and show greater mean height increment and seed production than their nearest neighbors without ants. The degree of plant protection depends on the duration of Formica presence. During Trirhabda outbreaks, only stems bearing Formica ants for most of the season are likely to produce flowers and seeds. While Formica ants do not exclude Trirhabda larvae from goldenrod stems, they do deter feeding; plants with Formica ants experience significantly less defoliation by larvae than neighboring stems without ants. Two smaller, less aggressive an species (Prenolepis imparis and Myrmica sp.) do not affect either larval or adult beetle densities.
Messina, F.J. 1981. Plant protection as a consequence of an ant-membracid mutualism: interactions on goldenrod (Solidago sp.). Ecology 62: 1433-1440.