, Volume 91, Issue 2, pp 235–238

Symbiotic ants as an alternative defense against giraffe herbivory in spinescent Acacia drepanolobium

  • Derek Madden
  • Truman P. Young
Original Papers

DOI: 10.1007/BF00317789

Cite this article as:
Madden, D. & Young, T.P. Oecologia (1992) 91: 235. doi:10.1007/BF00317789


We explore here the occurrence of aggressive ants in an apparently symbiotic relationship with the savanna tree Acacia drepanolobium and their effects on giraffe herbivory on the Athi-Kapiti Plains, Kenya. Trees taller than 1.3 m were more likely to be occupied by aggressive ants in the genus Crematogaster than were shorter trees. Ants wereconcentrated on shoot tips, the plant parts preferred by giraffes. Trees with relatively more foliage had more swarming ants than did trees with less foliage. The feeding behavior of individual freeranging giraffes on Acacia drepanolobium was studied. Giraffe calves exhibited a strong sensitivity to Crematogaster ants inhabiting A. drepanolobium, feeding for significantly shorter periods on trees with a greater number of aggressive ants. Older giraffes were apparently less sensitive to ants, and did not feed for shorter periods on trees with fuller foliage, despite significantly greater ant activity on these plants. The thorns of A. drepanolobium are significantly shorter than are the thorns of A. seyal, a species without symbiotic ants, a pattern that may indicate a trade-off between ants and thorns as defenses.

Key words

Acacia ants Giraffes Defense Myrmecophytes Crematogaster Thorns 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Derek Madden
    • 1
  • Truman P. Young
    • 1
  1. 1.School for Field StudiesBeverlyUSA
  2. 2.Modesto Junior CollegeModestoUSA
  3. 3.Center for Population Biology and Department of BotanyUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA

Personalised recommendations