John Flunker


Ant-Plant Mutualism: Formica species “ant-guard” feeding on extrafloral nectar secreted by Paeonia lactiflora (Paeoniaceae).

The mutualism between P. lactiflora and ant-guards is based upon the exchange of mutually beneficial services between plant and ant. Here a plant-derived nutritious food source in the form of extrafloral nectar produced by extrafloral nectaries is exchanged for ant protection from phytophagous insects. Such mutualistic interactions have helped to promote the evolutionary diversification of all kingdoms in the tree of life. The high prevalence of P. lactiflora as a garden ornamental provides an easily accessible opportunity to view, first hand, an example of mutualistic interactions.

I am particularly interested in biotic and abiotic mechanisms that contribute to the distribution, diversity, and evolution of mutualistic associations, especially in the context of plant-herbivore interactions. I am currently investigating the influence of water availability on the expression of anti-herbivore defenses by the extrafloral nectar producing plant Chamaecrista fasciculata (Fabaceae) in addition to subsequent tri-trophic interactions involving C. fasciculata, insect herbivores, and ant-guards.

Portraits Of Research 2009