, Volume 16, Issue 10, pp 2993-3013

Neotropical ant gardens II. Bioassays of seed compounds

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A number of volatile compounds occur on the seeds of taxonomically unrelated ant-garden epiphytes in western Amazonia. In field trials in southeastern Peru, we assayed the responses of ant-garden ants (Camponotus femoratus) to these and structurally similar compounds applied to artificial “seeds” made from zeolite molecular sieves. Benzothiazole,2, present on seeds of eight ant-garden epiphytes, repelled ants over the range of concentrations tested, as did 1-(2-hydroxy-6-methylphenyl)ethanone,3, occurring on seeds of six ant-garden epiphytes. 2-Hydroxy-6-methylbenzoic acid, methyl ester (methyl-6-methylsalicylate, 6-MMS),1, found on seeds of at least nine ant-garden epiphytes, was mildly repellent at high concentration, but stimulated excitement, seed handling, and (rarely) seed carrying at lower concentrations. Vanillin,5, a seed compound of four ant-garden epiphytes, and limonene,6, a monoterpene from seeds of three ant-garden epiphytes, both stimulated excitement, alarm, seed handling, and (rarely) seed carrying. Identified from seeds of seven ant-garden epiphytes, 1-(2,4-dihydroxyphenyl)ethanone,4, elicited little or no response. Among 70 compounds tested (mainly aromatic compounds), those found on seeds of ant-garden epiphytes or having structural features in common with such compounds were the most attractive to the ants. Although not present on epiphyte seeds, 2-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzenemethanol,10, consistently stimulated seed transport to the nest in one year, but did so only rarely in subsequent years. Some of the volatile compounds on seeds of ant-garden epiphytes probably play a role in ant attraction to epiphyte seeds, but evidence remains ambiguous. Finally,Ca. femoratus responded to one test compound [1-(2-hydroxy-4-methoxyphenyl)ethanone,60] (absent from epiphyte seeds) by descending from the vegetation to the ground.