Virola sebifera Aubl. (Myristicaceae) leaf chemical composition and implications on leaf-cutter ant foraging choice
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Leaf-cutter ant plant material choice is essential for colony maintenance and growth. Plant material is used as a substrate for cultivating symbiotic fungus, and the ants’ preference for particular leaves, tends to be determined by vegetal age-related physicochemical factors. The plant species Virola sebifera Aubl. (Myristicaceae), for example, shows a large number of leaf surface trichomes. Although non-glandular, V. sebifera trichomes may gradually retain an increasing amount of chemical compounds over the lifetime of the leaf. Thus, the present study aims to investigate the role of plant chemical compounds on Atta sexdens rubropilosa preference for V. sebifera leaves of different ages. For this purpose, the chemical composition of trichomes on young and senescent leaves was analyzed, and ants’ preference tested. The chemical compositions differ between V. sebifera young and senescent leaves, with triacontane (C30) predominance in young leaves and tetratriacontane (C34) predominance in senescent leaves. Ants’ preference choice was tested by randomly offering leaves of different ages to A. sexdens rubropilosa workers, following six different treatments: (1) young leaf fragments; (2) young leaf fragments with few trichomes removed; (3) loose trichomes from young leaves; (4) senescent leaf fragments; (5) senescent leaf fragments with few trichomes removed, and (6) loose trichomes from senescent leaves. Ants’ preference was observed for young leaves fragments with a few trichomes removed and also for young leaves loose trichomes. Ants’ preference might be due to specific volatile compounds (GLV) preset in V. sebifera young leaves. Results suggest occurrence of ants’ selectivity resulting from changes on trichomes chemical composition between V. sebifera leaves different age stages.