Year of Publication

2015

Season of Publication

Fall

Paper Type

Master's Thesis

College

College of Arts and Sciences

Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology (MS)

Department

Biology

NACO controlled Corporate Body

University of North Florida. Department of Biology

First Advisor

Dr. Tony Rossi

Second Advisor

Dr. Dan Moon

Third Advisor

Dr. Dale Cassamatta

Department Chair

Dr. Cliff Ross

College Dean

Dr. Barbara A. Hetrick

Abstract

Plants and insects are some of the most biodiverse groups in the world and are constantly interacting. One unique interaction that has been observed occurs between carnivorous plants and insects; some plant species are capable of capturing and digesting insects for nutrients. Despite preying on these insects, there are cases where such interactions can been viewed as mutualistic. For instance, a nectar reward is produced by the plant to attract insects, and during visitation insects may fall prey to these plants. Additionally, carnivorous myrmecophytic plants may receive an added indirect benefit in the form of reduced herbivory, since ants have the ability to indirectly protect and drive off herbivores from the plant. However, this type of indirect defensive benefit has been rarely observed in carnivorous plants. To determine the nature of the relationship between carnivorous plants and ants, a predator-exclusion experiment was performed in situ using a natural population of the hooded pitcher plant, Sarracenia minor. The presence of the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, was manipulated in the pitcher plant population to determine if the presence of this non-native ant affects the survival and growth of this carnivorous pitcher plant. From June-November 2014 mean pitcher height and width, number of pitchers, and proportion of pitchers with herbivory present was recorded monthly. Results indicated that pitcher width (p = .042) and the number of pitchers (p = .038) was significantly lower when the presence of S. invicta was reduced. Specifically, the limited presence of S. invicta led to a 21% reduction in mean number of pitchers and a 2.2% reduction in mean pitcher width. This indicated that this non-native ant does provide a direct nutritional benefit for the plant. However, the presence of the ant had no effect on pitcher height and the proportion of pitchers with herbivory present. But, when the proportion of pitchers with herbivory present was compared to a previous native ant study, herbivory proportions where similar or lower when taking the number of ants present into account. This suggests that this non-native ant and native ants equally provide defensive benefits for this native threatened species. Overall, this studied illustrated that carnivorous plants may exhibit similar multiple benefits from a single interaction with a non-native insect that is both prey and provides defense against herbivores.

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