Mutualism between harvester ants and a desert ephemeral: seed escape from rodents
O'Dowd, Dennis J.
Hay, Mark E.
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The harvester ants Veromessor pergandei and Pogonomyrmex californicus modify the highly localized seed shadow of the Sonoran Desert ephemeral Datura discolor (Solanaceae) through (1) attraction to food bodies attached to seeds released beneath the parent plant, (2) immediate transport of disapores to the ant nest, (3) subsequent removal of the food body in underground granaries, and (4) final expulsion of intact seeds onto the colony midden. D. discolor seed without food bodies are not attractive to ants and remain beneath the parent canopy. At Nude Wash, California, USA, diaspore removal distances are generally small, averaging 2.3 m away from the nearest D. discolor canopy in March—May 1977. Two lines of evidence indicate that this limited transport has a large effect on seed detection and utilization by rodents: (1) seeds placed in ant—proof dishes beneath the D. discolor canopy were about 10 times more likely to be removed by nocturnally foraging rodents than seeds placed in locations similar to those where ants locate their nests; (2) using D. discolor as bait, significantly more rodents were trapped beneath the plant canopy than in open areas where seeds were transported by ants. Manipulation of the density of D. discolor seed in these tests suggests that seed utilization by rodents is distance—responsive to the parent canopy rather than dependent on the density of seeds. Disapore analyses indicate that investment in the transport system is relatively small and represents <5% of the total investment in seeds.