Every Ant Tells a Story - And Scientists Explain Their Stories Here
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  • Pirk, G. I. and J. L. de Casenave. 2017. Ant interactions with native and exotic seeds in the Patagonian steppe: Influence of seed traits, disturbance levels and ant assemblage. Plant Ecology. 218:1255-1268. doi:10.1007/s11258-017-0764-4

Invasive plants may establish strong interactions with species in their new range which could limit or enhance their establishment and spread. These interactions depend upon traits of the invader and the recipient community, and may alter interactions among native species. In the Patagonian steppe we studied interactions of native ant assemblages with seeds of native and exotic plants, and asked whether ant–seed interactions differ with seed types and disturbance levels and whether the amount and type of ant–seed interactions can be predicted if both ant and seed traits are known. To characterize and quantify ant–seed interactions, we offered baits with large seeds of Pappostipa speciosa (native) and medium-sized elaiosome-bearing seeds of Carduus thoermeri (exotic), near and far from a road (high vs. low disturbed areas), and compared ant abundance and composition between areas. Interaction frequency was the highest for C. thoermeri seeds far from the road. Composition of ants interacting with C. thoermeri in these areas differed from that near the road and from that interacting with native seeds. Ant composition and abundance were similar between areas, but some species interacted more with exotic seeds in low disturbed areas. Ant foraging type predicted ant–seed interactions since the abundance of seed harvesters was positively correlated to interactions with P. speciosa, and that of generalists and predators, with interactions with C. thoermeri. The high interaction of ants with exotic seeds in low invaded areas suggests that ant activity could influence plant invasion, either by predating or dispersing seeds of invasive plants.


Zhu and Wang 2018. Figure 1. Workers of Pristomyrmex pungens directly collected Corydalis racemosa seeds from the dehiscing carpels in the field (A); workers were attracted by capsules of C. racemosa in the lab (B)


  • Miller, C. N. and C. Kwit. 2018. Overall seed dispersal effectiveness is lower in endemic Trillium species than in their widespread congeners. American Journal of Botany. 105:1847-1857. doi:10.1002/ajb2.1188

Premise of the Study: Comparing ecological attributes of endemic species with related, widespread species can reveal differences accounting for rarity. Forests of the southeastern United States are home to many range‐restricted endemic and widespread species of Trillium, a genus of ant‐dispersed herbs. Evidence suggests that aspects of seed‐related life history stages are often correlated with plant rarity, but few studies have tested whether the process of seed dispersal differs for endemic and widespread species. To address this question, we compared aspects of seed dispersal effectiveness (SDE) for three sympatric, widespread endemic Trillium species pairs. Methods: We observed seed dispersal for Trillium species pairs by ants at eight sites, recorded numbers of seeds dispersed and dispersal distances, and described disperser interactions. To test disperser preference, we presented seeds of each pair to captive colonies of Aphaenogaster picea, a keystone disperser. Seeds were assigned scores based on worker behavior, and we recorded proportions of seeds dispersed after 1 h and 24 h. Key Results: Field observations yielded some significant within‐pair differences. Ants dispersed more seeds of widespread species for all pairs, although dispersal distances did not differ. In laboratory experiments, after 24 h, ants dispersed more seeds of widespread species into nests. Conclusions: Endemic Trillium species had lower overall SDE than did their widespread congeners. These findings add to the list of ecological and demographic challenges that face endemic plants when compared to common congeners. Lower SDE may negatively impact reproductive rates and the colonization of new habitats, which may contribute to patterns of endemism.

  • Montesinos, D., M. Correia, S. Castro, K. French, and S. Rodriguez-Echeverria. 2018. Diminishing importance of elaiosomes for acacia seed removal in non-native ranges. Evolutionary Ecology. 32:601-621. doi:10.1007/s10682-018-9959-y

Myrmecochorous plants produce seeds with lipid-rich appendages (elaiosomes) which act as a reward for seed-dispersing ants. Seed dispersal is important for exotic species, which often need to establish new mutualistic interactions in order to colonize new non-native habitats. However, little is known about the importance of elaiosomes for seed removal in many of their non-native ranges. We studied ant-seed interactions of elaiosome-bearing and elaiosome-removed seeds of the Australian trees Acacia dealbata and Acacia longifolia in order to assess the relative importance of elaiosomes for seed removal between their native (Australia) and non-native (Portugal) ranges. In Portugal, we also studied the co-occurring native plant species with myrmecochorous seeds, Pterospartum tridentatum and Ulex europaeus, across three contiguous levels of acacia invasion: control (i.e. no acacia), low, and high acacia tree density. Acacia seeds were successfully removed by ants in their non-native region by a diversified assemblage of ant species, even in sites where native plants interacted with only one specialized ant species. In the invaded range, diminishing relative importance of elaiosomes was associated with changes in the ant community due to acacia invasion, and for A. dealbata, ant species richness decreased with increasing acacia tree density. Although seed removal was high for both acacia species, the importance of elaiosomes was proportionally lower for A. dealbata in the non-native region. Native plant species experienced significant reductions in seed removal in areas highly invaded by acacia, identifying another mechanism of displacement of native plants by acacias.

  • Rocha, M. L. C., P. F. Cristaldo, J. S. Cruz, J. J. M. Sacramento, D. V. Ferreira, and A. P. A. Araujo. 2018. Ants Associated with Turnera subulata (Turneraceae): Elaiosome Attraction, Seed Dispersion and Germination. Neotropical Entomology. 47:750-756. doi:10.1007/s13744-018-0616-5

Symbiosis between plants and ants include examples in which the plant provides shelter and/or food for ants that, in turn, act in the defense or in the dispersion of seeds from the host plant. Although traditionally referred as mutualistic, the results of these interactions may vary with the ecological context in which patterns are involved. A range of species have facultative association with Turnera subulata (Turneraceae). Here, using behavioral bioassays, we investigated the effects of the most frequent ant species associated with T. subulata (Brachymyrmex sp.1, Camponotus blandus (Smith), Dorymyrmex sp.1, Crematogaster obscurata Emery, and Solenopsis invicta Buren) in the dispersion of plant host seeds and in the number of seedlings around the associated ant nests. We also evaluated the effects of these ant species in the germination of T. subulata seeds, in the consumption of elaiosome, and in the attractiveness to elaiosome odor. Our results showed that the ant species associated with T. subulata presented variation in the attraction by the odor and in the rate of consumption of the elaiosomes. However, none of the ant species studied contributed significantly to the increase of seed germination and seedling growth. Our results suggest that the consumption of the elaiosome by ant species is not a determinant factor to the success of germination of T. subulata. However, such species could contribute indirectly to seed germination by carrying seeds to sites more fertile to germination. In general, our results help to elucidate the results of ecological interactions involving ants and plants.

  • Zhu, Y. and D. Wang. 2018. Leaf Volatiles from Two Corydalis Species Lure a Keystone Seed-dispersing Ant and Enhance Seed Retrieval. Sociobiology. 65:370-374. doi:10.13102/sociobiology.v65i3.2726

It has been reported that a suit of plant traits can regulate the ant-seed interaction and subsequently affect the seed dispersal. However, the role of plant volatiles in attracting the ants for seed dispersal remains little examined. We used a Y-tube olfactometer to test behavior response of a keystone seed-dispersing ant (Pristomyrmex pungens Mayr) to leaves and seeds of five co-occurring myrmecochorous Corydalis species (C. wilfordii Regel, C. racemosa (Thunberg) Persoon, C. sheareri S. Moore, C. balansae Prain and C. incisa (Thunberg) Persoon). Of the five species, only C. wilfordii and C. racemosa leaves emits heavily volatiles. We also performed seed cafeteria experiments to assess the effect of leaf volatiles from C. racemosa on seed retrieval by presenting simultaneously the seeds near the fresh leaf and the leaf immersed by diethyl ether both in the field and lab. The experiment using Y-tube showed that the ants were only significantly attracted by the fresh leaves of two species, C. wilfordii and C. racemosa. The cafeteria experiments showed that ants spent less time to detect the C. racemosa seeds which were near the fresh leaf, and transported these seeds more quickly. This indicated that the leaf volatiles can function as an attractant for the dispersing ants, and ant preference in turn enhance the seed retrieval. The findings reveal that leaf volatiles can play an important but underestimated role in shaping the ant-seed dispersing interactions.