Recent evidence suggests that the traditional view of myrmecochory as a highly diffuse interaction between diaspores and a wide range of ant species attracted to their elaiosomes may not be correct. The effectiveness of dispersal varies markedly among ant species, and combined with differential attractiveness of diaspores due to elaiosome size and composition, this raises the potential for myrmecochorous plants to target ant species that offer the highest quality dispersal services. We ask the question: Do particular physical and chemical traits of elaiosomes result in disproportionate removal of Euphorbiaceae diaspores by high-quality disperser ants in Caatinga vegetation of north-eastern Brazil? We offered seeds of five euphorb species that varied in morphological and chemical traits of elaiosomes to seed-dispersing ants. High-quality seeddisperser ants (species of Dinoponera, Ectatomma and Camponotus) were identified as those that rapidly collected and transported diaspores to their nests, often over substantial distances, whereas low-quality disperser ants (primarily species of Pheidole and Solenopsis) typically fed on elaiosomes in situ, and only ever transported diaspores very short distances. Low-quality disperser ants were equally attracted to the elaiosomes of all study species. However, high-quality dispersers showed a strong preference for diaspores with the highest elaiosome mass (and especially proportional mass). As far as we are aware, this is the first study to identify a mechanism of diaspore selection by high-quality ant dispersers based on elaiosome traits under field conditions. Our findings suggest that myrmecochorous plants can preferentially target high-quality seed-disperser ants through the evolution of particular elaiosome traits.
Leal, L., Neto, M., Oliveira, A., Andersen, A., & Leal, I. (2014). Myrmecochores can target high-quality disperser ants: variation in elaiosome traits and ant preferences for myrmecochorous Euphorbiaceae in Brazilian Caatinga. Oecologia, 174(2), 493-500. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-013-2789-2