, Volume 139, Issue 3, pp 376-382
Date: 18 Mar 2004

Interaction between ants and fruits of Guapira opposita (Nyctaginaceae) in a Brazilian sandy plain rainforest: ant effects on seeds and seedlings

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This study examines the dispersal system of Guapira opposita in a tropical sandy rainforest in southeast Brazil. Guapira trees produce small fruits with a high protein content (28.4%) and low lipid content (0.3%), and the plant is primarily dispersed by birds. Mature fruits of G. opposita can fall spontaneously with the pulp intact, or be dropped by birds with bits of pulp attached. In either case, ground-dwelling ants rapidly remove the fruits to their nest (93% after 12 h). The ponerine ants Odontomachus chelifer and Pachycondyla striata are the main seed vectors among the ants, and together account for 56% (20 of 36) of the ant-fruit interactions recorded on the forest floor. Individual workers of O. chelifer and P. striata transport single fruits to their nests. Bits of pulp are fed to larvae and worker nestmates, and intact seeds are discarded outside the nest. Germination success in Guapira is higher for cleaned seeds (pulp removed) than for seeds coated by pulp. Guapira seedlings and juveniles are more frequent close to Odontomachus nests than at sites without such nests. Soil samples from Odontomachus nests had greater penetrability, and higher concentrations of P, K, and Ca than random soil samples. Field experiments suggest that the association between G. opposita seedlings and O. chelifer nests can potentially render the plant some protection against herbivores. Results indicate that fruit displacement by ponerine ants play an important role in the biology of G. opposita seeds and seedlings in the sandy forest, and illustrate the complex nature of the dispersal ecology of tropical tree species.