Seed dispersal by ants in Polygala vulgaris, Luzula campestris and Viola curtisii was studied in a primary dune valley on the island of Terschelling, The Netherlands. Normally developed seeds of all three species are taken by the ants into their nests. The ants show a distinct preference for the seeds of the specialized myrmecochore Polygala vulgaris, as compared with the two diplochorous species. It could be demonstrated that the elaiosome is the attractive part of the seed. Mapping studies demonstrate that the dispersal of the seeds by ants has a marked effect on the distribution pattern of the standing population of Polygala and Viola. Adult plants are often found on or close to the active nest mounds of all ant species present, while the growing sites of juvenile individuals and seedlings are practically restricted to the nest environment. The nests of two of the seed-dispersing ant species, viz., those of Lasius niger and Tetramorium caespitum, show differences in soil chemistry with the surroundings. The ant nests are significantly richer in some essential plant macronutrients, such as phosphate, potassium and nitrate. The advantage of myrmecochory in the dune area of Terschelling is discussed.
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