Woodland Ants play a key role in helping forests regenerate.
Via Sustainability Times
Ants scampering around in woodlands remain largely invisible to the casual observer, but that does not mean their actions on the forest floor go unnoticed. They are manifested in a dazzling array of wildflowers in spring with trillium, wild ginger, violets, and bloodroot, all testament to their tireless works.
According to newly published research, some aphaenogaster species, as these ants are scientifically known, play vital roles in plant diversity in forests. They do this in part by dispersing seeds far and wide.
“Not a lot of people have heard of them, but they are the powerhouse of moving seeds and called ‘keystone dispersers,’” notes Carmela Buono, a doctoral candidate in biological sciences at Binghamton University in the United States who led the research.
Many understory plant species, such as flowers, rely on a mutual relationship with ants to disperse their seeds, and the northeastern part of North America is a hotspot for this form of ant-plant mutualism, Buono and her colleagues have found.
“These plants evolved with seeds that have an appendage rich in fats attached to them, and that’s very attractive to woodland ants,” the scientist says. “Ants need fats just as much as protein and sugar, and it’s hard to find foods rich in fats in the forest.”
Woodland ants, which live in logs, in forest leaf litter, and underneath rocks, explore their environs in search of these fatty seeds, which they haul back to their nests where they protect them from rodents and other animals.
“Once the fatty appendages are consumed, the ants, in a kind of insect housekeeping, remove the seeds from the nest, dispersing them far from the original plant,” the scientists explain.
The Symbioses Between The Forest and the Ants
It is a mutually beneficial arrangement for both the plants and the ants.
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