1. Harvester ants are major seed predators in arid environments. However, given that many harvester ants are partly omnivorous and therefore potentially attracted to the elaiosomes of myrmecochorous seeds, it is unclear if these ants act as predators or dispersers when removing myrmecochorous seeds.
2. We describe the outcomes of interactions between the harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex naegelii, and myrmecochorous plant, Microstachys serrulata, in a Brazilian savanna. We: (i) evaluated the role of elaiosome in seed removal by P. naegelii; (ii) investigated the fate and viability of removed seeds; (iii) tested if soils associated with P. naegelii nests are nutrient-enriched; (iv) compared seedling survival; and (v) the density of seedling and adult M. serrulata nearby to P. naegelii nests compared with those away from these nests (i.e. controls).
3. Rates of removal of M. serrulata seeds were two-fold higher with elaiosomes than without. The ant attractant oleic acid was the dominant fatty acid in elaiosomes, but it was absent from seeds. Removed seeds are taken into nests, and Tetrazolium tests indicated that 95% of seeds remain viable. Soils associated with P. naegelii nests were not nutrient-enriched, and seedling survival was similar nearby to P. naegelii nests compared with control areas. However, densities of both seedling and adult M. serrulata were higher nearby to P. naegelii nests than in control areas.
4. Our findings show that P. naegelii switches its role from seed predator for most plant species to be the dominant seed disperser for M. serrulata, playing a key role in the distribution of adult plants.