Plant killing by mutualistic ants increases the density of host species seedlings in the dry forest of Costa Rica

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Abstract

Some species of plant-mutualistic ants kill the vegetation growing in the vicinities of their host plant, creating an area of bare ground (clearing). The reduced competition in the clearing may facilitate the establishment of host species sprouts (clones and seedlings), which in turn benefits the ants with additional food and shelter ("sprout-establishment hypothesis"). To test this hypothesis, the density and origin of Acacia collinsii sprouts growing inside clearings and in the vicinities of acacia plants without clearings were compared. Also, to assess the pruning selectivity of acacia ants (Pseudomyrmex spinicola), seedlings were transplanted into clearings. The reaction of ants towards unrewarding acacia seedlings (without food and shelter) was also tested. The density of acacia sprouts growing inside clearings was almost twice that in the vicinities of host plants without clearings, and sprouts were inhabited by nestmates of the colony that made the clearing. Clones and seedlings were found in similar proportions in the clearings, and ants did not kill unrewarding acacia seedlings or seedlings unrelated to their host. The benefit reported here for the ants could be in conflict with the host plant, especially when the plant has rhizomal reproduction. © 2012 Sabrina Amador-Vargas.

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Amador-Vargas, S. (2012). Plant killing by mutualistic ants increases the density of host species seedlings in the dry forest of Costa Rica. Psyche (London). https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/491592

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