Ants and Plants - A Longstanding Relationship - AcademiaNet
Nov 21, Many species of ants live in symbiosis with plants, and both partners in these relationships profit. One of the most remarkable of these. Myrmecophytes are plants that live in a mutualistic association with a colony of ants. There are Facultative relationships can also develop between non-native plant and ant species, where co-evolution has not occurred. For example, Old. Jan 15, One of the classic examples of a co-evolutionary mutualism — two species evolving in tandem to the benefit of both — involves 'ant-plants' and.
Ellison From the first growth spurts of the tiniest seedling to the final days of the mightiest giant, ants are there, shaping the lives of trees.
- Ants and Plants - A Longstanding Relationship
- Trees Get By with Ant Aides
Ellison When thinking of how ants interact with trees, a lot of people may think of carpenter ants eating trees — and the wood in their home. In fact, in both our forests and houses, these denizens of hollow trees and rotting rafters are merely the final stage of a lifelong relationship between trees and many kinds of ants. Take a closer look at the many healthy seedlings, saplings and trees near your home. Anywhere you look, you will probably find a worker of one of the many ant species associated with the trees in our forests.
Mutualistic Relationship Between Trees and Ants | Ask A Biologist
Anthills range in size from the tiny pile of the Labor Day ant top to the large mound hill built by the Allegheny mound ant and the mound nest of the European red wood ant bottom. Depending on the species, such anthills can range in size from a tiny pile of sand grains that is less than an inch across to a huge mound several feet high and many cubic yards in volume.
This is where the lifelong connection between ants and trees begins. Anthills are the product of tens to tens of thousands of burrowing, tunneling worker ants that have excavated mineral soil while building temperature-controlled earthen chambers in which to live, store food, protect the queen and rear her brood.
In the formerly glaciated parts of North America — most of Canada and much of the northern reaches of the United States — there are no native earthworms. In these areas, much of the topsoil was created by ants.
In fact, ants create soil up to 10 times faster than earthworms, excavating as much as 30, pounds of soil per acre every year, creating about 4 inches of new soil per millennium in the process.Ants farming aphids
In this way, ants are integral to the life of a tree from the very beginning. Ants create the best compost there is; anthills are localized hotspots of nutrients.
Ants and Trees: A Lifelong Relationship - American Forests
Their digestive cycle helps to create the nutrient-rich soil young trees need. As omnivores, ants collect and store large amounts of nutrient-rich prey. Squamellaria are adapted to this niche, as the hypocotyl of the germinating seedlings elongates into a unique 'foot', enabling the seedling to rapidly grow out of the bark crack and into the light.
The seedlings then immediately form a tiny tuber with a preformed hole — the so-called domatium — into which ants enter to defecate and thereby fertilise the seedling. As the seedlings grow, the domatium becomes larger, forming a network of galleries connected to the outside, which the ants colonise to form large colonies, continuing to use some chambers for faecal matter, others for their larvae.
As epiphytes, Squamellaria species cannot draw on soil as a source of inorganic nutrients, and the ants promote their growth by supplying them with fertiliser.
As the ants plant more seedlings, all of which they eventually colonise, they are creating a kind of 'village' on the supporting tree with many well protected nests.
A longstanding relationship
A single ant colony occupies many Squamellaria plants, but only one 'house' contains the queen: All of these individuals are the progeny of a single queen, whose nest is located in the center of the system," Guillaume Chomicki explains.
Insects are animals, and like all animals, they use some of what they eat to grow and make babies, and they poop out the rest. Plant sap has more sugar than the scale insects can use, so scale insects poop sugar.
This makes them a favorite of ants, which can't drink plant sap straight from the plant, but love sugar. That's right, the ants eat the sugary poop from the scale insects. When ants live inside trees, they often have herds of these sugar-pooping scale insects. It's a lot like people having herds of cows for milk. We can move our cows around a pasture, but the amount of milk we'll get depends on how much grass is growing in the pasture. In the same way, the ants can move their scale insects around the tree, but the amount of sugar that the ants get depends on the tree.
Trees Trade in Sugar The scientists found that trees in drier places had more scale insects for ants.
Does the tree provide more food for ants in drier places to get better defense for their valuable leaves? The scientists answered this question by using math to ask what the trees should do with their sugar under different conditions.
They found that trees at drier sites should provide more sugary food to defending ants to avoid losing leaves and dying from starvation. Trees at wetter sites should use their sugars for growth instead of giving them away to the ants. Ants tending their scale insects. Much like keeping a heard of cows, these ants keep scale insects for their sugar poop that they use for food. Ant Insurance If your parents have a car, they buy car insurance.
They have to pay a small amount of money every year to the insurance company. If the car is damaged in an accident, it may be very expensive to fix it. But because your parents have car insurance, the insurance company pays the bill.
The scientists reasoned that a similar thing was happening with trees and ants. Trees that live in very dry places have more scale insects to get sugar out of the trees to pay the ants. Ants then do a great job of defending the leaves in the rainy season, so that the tree has enough food to survive the next dry season. And the bills are paid in sugar. These two graphs are from the original article. They tell part of the story of how ants and trees work together.
Click on the graphs to enlarge and to learn more about them.