Indirect effects of granivory by harvester ants: plant species composition and reproductive increase near ant nests

  • Rissing S
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. Of 36 plant species surveyed, 6 were significantly associated with nests of the desert seed-harvester ant Vero- messor pergandei or Pogonomyrmex rugosus; two other plant species were significantly absent from ant nests. Seeds of two common desert annuals, Schismus arabicus and Plan- tago insularis, realize a 15.6 and 6.5 fold increase (respec- tively) in number of fruits or seeds produced per plant grow- ing in ant nest refuse piles compared to nearby controls. Mass of individual S. arabicus seed produced by plants growing in refuse piles also increased significantly. Schismus arabicus, P. insularis and other plants associated with ant nests do not have seeds with obvious appendages attractive to ants. Dispersal and reproductive increase of such seeds may represent a relatively primitive form of ant-plant dis- persal devoid of seed morphological specializations. Alter- natively, evolution of specialized seed structures for dispers- al may be precluded by the assemblage of North American seed-harvester ants whose workers are significantly larger than those ants normally associated with elaiosome-at- tached seed dispersal. Large worker size may permit con- sumption of elaiosome and seed

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  • Steven W. Rissing

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