Knowledge of the role of ants in many agroecosystems is relatively scarce, and in temperate regions the possibility to exploit ants as biocontrol agents for crop protection is still largely unexplored. Drawing inspiration from mutualistic ant-plant relationships mediated by extrafloral nectaries (EFNs), we tested the use of artificial nectaries (ANs) in order to increase ant activity on pear trees and to evaluate the effects on the arthropods, plant health and fruit production. While EFNs secrete a complex solution mainly composed of sugars and amino acids, ANs were filled with water and sucrose only. The results suggest that ANs can be used as manipulative instruments to increase ant activity over long periods of time. High ant activity was significantly linked to lower incidence of the pathogen fungus Venturia pyrina (pear scab) on pear leaves, and of the presence of Cydia pomonella (codling moth) caterpillars on pear fruit production. These results further encourage exploring underrated possibilities in the development of new tools for conservation biological control (CBC).
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