Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Ants Are Friendly To Some Trees, But Not Others

Date:
November 9, 2009
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
Tree-dwelling ants generally live in harmony with their arboreal hosts. But new research suggests that when they run out of space in their trees of choice, the ants can get destructive to neighboring trees.

Ants on a tree. Tree-dwelling ants generally live in harmony with their arboreal hosts. But new research suggests that when they run out of space in their trees of choice, the ants can get destructive to neighboring trees.
Credit: iStockphoto/Chanyut Sribua-rawd

Tree-dwelling ants generally live in harmony with their arboreal hosts. But new research suggests that when they run out of space in their trees of choice, the ants can get destructive to neighboring trees.

The research, published in the November issue of the American Naturalist, is the first to document that ants bore into live trees, and it reopens a centuries-old debate on the relationship between ants and plants.

Ants and certain species of plants and trees have cozy relationships. Myrmecophytes, also knows as ant-plants, have hollow stems or roots that occur as a normal part of their development. Ant colonies often take residence in these hollows. To protect their homes, the ants patrol the area around the tree, killing insects that want to eat the plant's leaves and sometimes destroying vegetation of other plants that might compete for precious soil nutrients and sunlight. The relationship is a classic biological mutualism. The ants get a nice place to live; the trees get protection. Everybody wins.

But while researching ant-plants in the Amazonian rainforests of Peru, Douglas Yu of the University of East Anglia and Glenn Shepard of Sao Paulo University were tipped off by the local people about a strange phenomenon. The natives showed the researchers several non-myrmecophyte trees with swollen scars called galls on their trunks and branches. When the researchers cut into the galls, they found that ants had excavated tunnels into the live wood.

"Ants are superb ecosystem engineers," David Edwards the lead author of the study said, "but this is the first example of ants galling trees to make housing."

Megan Frederickson, a Harvard biologist and member of the research team, searched 1,000 square kilometers of forest and found numerous galled trees inhabited by ants, suggesting the behavior is not uncommon. The galled trees were only found on the edges of "Devil's gardens" -- ant-made forest clearings that surround stands of ant-plants. It appears, the researchers say, that when the colonies fill the available space in the ant-plants, they branch out and carve new nests into neighboring trees.

The discovery reopens a debate that raged among Charles Darwin and his contemporaries about the relationship between ants and plants. Darwin believed -- rightly as it turned out -- the hollow spaces in ant-plants occurred as part of the plant's normal development. Since the ants did no damage to the plant, the relationship could be considered a mutualism. Botanist Richard Spruce disagreed. He believed the ants bored the hollows themselves and that the trees needed ants "like a dog needs fleas." In Spruce's view, ants are parasites.

Studies in the 1960s showed definitively that ant-plant hollows occur normally, vindicating Darwin. But this latest finding that ants do gall non-myrmecophytic trees shows that Spruce wasn't so wrong after all.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Edwards et al. A Plant Needs Ants like a Dog Needs Fleas: Myrmelachista schumanni Ants Gall Many Tree Species to Create Housing. The American Naturalist, 2009; 174 (5): 734 DOI: 10.1086/606022

Cite This Page:

University of Chicago Press Journals. "Ants Are Friendly To Some Trees, But Not Others." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 November 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091107115833.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2009, November 9). Ants Are Friendly To Some Trees, But Not Others. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091107115833.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "Ants Are Friendly To Some Trees, But Not Others." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091107115833.htm (accessed October 1, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Earth Has Lost Half Its Vertebrate Wildlife Since 1970: WWF

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) A new study published by the World Wide Fund for Nature found that more than half of the world's wildlife population has declined since 1970. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Dolphins Might Use Earth's Magnetic Field As A GPS

Dolphins Might Use Earth's Magnetic Field As A GPS

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) A study released Monday suggests dolphins might be able to sense the Earth's magnetic field and possibly use it as a means of navigation. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How To Battle Stink Bug Season

How To Battle Stink Bug Season

Newsy (Sep. 30, 2014) Homeowners in 33 states grapple with stink bugs moving indoors at this time of year. Here are a few tips to avoid stink bug infestations. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
California University Designs Sustainable Winery

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) Amid California's worst drought in decades, scientists at UC Davis design a sustainable winery that includes a water recycling system. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins