Ants and Plants

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Complex symbioses have been fashioned among the thousands of species of ants and plants. Often these relationships are parasitic, with one exploiting the other and giving nothing in return. In other cases they are commensalistic, with one partner making use of the other but, as in the case of ants occupying hollow stems, neither harming nor helping it. But of maximum scientific interest, some symbioses appear to be mutualistic; in other words, both partners benefit from the association. To put the matter as briefly as possible, ants use cavities supplied by the plants for nest sites, as well as nectar and nutritive corpuscles given them as food. They in turn protect their plant hosts from herbivores, distribute their seeds, and literally pot their roots with soil and nutrients. There is abundant evidence, which we will review shortly, that some pairwise combinations of ants and plants have coevolved so that each is specialized to use the other's services. This mutualistic linkage has produced some of the most elaborate adaptations known in nature. (Holldobler and Wilson 1990).

  • Mutualisms - protection and feeding
  • Myrmecophytes - plants provide ant nests
  • Ant Gardens
  • Bromeliads
  • Myrmecochory - Ants and Seeds
    • Ant mediated seed dispersal
    • Elaiosomes - food for ants
  • Domatia
  • Plants Feeding Ants
    • Food Bodies
    • Extrafloral Nectaries

Ant Plants