Foraging, food selection and worker size in the seed harvesting ant Messor bouvieri

  • Willott S
  • Compton S
  • Incoll L
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Interactions among granivores and seeds depend on the foraging behaviour and morphology of the granivores and on the attributes and availability of seeds. We investigated seed selection by the seed harvesting ant Messor bouvieri in three adjacent plant communities in Spain by relating the harvested seeds to those in the seed rain. Preference was positively correlated with seed size and abundance which accounted for 43% and 20% of the variance respectively. Contrary to predictions of central place foraging theory, the size of seeds harvested did not increase with distance from the nest. Inclusion of a less-preferred item in the diet was more strongly related to the abundance of more-preferred items (60% of the variance) than the abundance of the less-preferred item (14% of the variance). Worker size accounted for 20-30% of the variance in the size of harvested seeds, although small workers did not appear to be constrained by load size for the range of seeds available. The body size of ants was significantly larger in the community with the greatest proportion of large seeds, although this was not due to their ability to carry larger loads or due to the greater force required to crush these seeds. The strong preference of M. bouvieri for large seeds may have important consequences for the plant communities in which they forage.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Allometry
  • Granivory
  • Optimal foraging
  • Seed predation
  • Size matching

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  • S. J. Willott

  • S. G. Compton

  • L. D. Incoll

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