Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Eric von Wettberg
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Ant-plant interactions, extrafloral nectar, pine rocklands, plant defense, Senna mexicana var. chapmanii
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Extrafloral nectar (EFN) mediates food-for-protection mutualisms between plants and defensive insects. Senna mexicana var. chapmanii is a perennial legume native to the pine rockland habitats of south Florida. My dissertation focuses on how anthropogenic changes to the pine rocklands might affect EFN production by S. chapmanii, and the outcome of EFN mediated interactions. First, I investigated the influence of time of day, leaf damage, and leaf age on EFN production in S. chapmanii. Plants produced more nectar at night than during the day, and leaf damage resulted in increased EFN production. Furthermore, the response to leaf damage was greater when plants were damaged in the morning than when plants were damaged at night. Damage to young leaves elicited a stronger defensive response than damage to older leaves, in line with optimal defense theory. Second, I conducted a field experiment to determine the effects of ant activity, and light intensity, on herbivory rates, growth, and reproductive fitness in S. chapmanii. In shaded habitats, the presence of ants had no effect on herbivory rates, seed set, or plant size. In sunny habitats, however, plants with ants suffered less herbivore damage, produced more seeds, and grew larger over the duration of the one year study. Third, through a controlled greenhouse experiment I examined the effects of light intensity, and red/far-red light ratios, on EFN production in S. chapmanii. Plants in light-limited conditions produced less EFN, and leaf damage elicited increased EFN production regardless of light conditions. Ratios of red/far-red light, however, did not affect EFN production in either damaged or undamaged plants. Finally, I conducted a field study to determine how ants affect reproductive fitness in S. chapmanii. Over a period of eight months I observed the effects of ants on the activity of herbivores, predators, pollinators, and pre-dispersal seed predators. Relative pollinator efficiency, and rates of pre-dispersal seed predation, were unaffected by ants. Plants with ants, however, were quicker to establish, grew larger, and produced floral displays that attracted more pollinators. In S. chapmanii ants affected plant reproductive fitness simply by facilitating growth and establishment, with coincidental effects on reproductive investment.
Jones, Ian M., "The Ecology of Extrafloral Nectar in Senna mexicana var. chapmanii" (2016). FIU Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 2594.
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