Oecologia

, Volume 153, Issue 3, pp 687–697 | Cite as

A keystone ant species promotes seed dispersal in a “diffuse” mutualism

  • Aaron D. Gove
  • Jonathan D. Majer
  • Robert R. Dunn
Community Ecology

Abstract

In order to understand the dynamics of co-evolution it is important to consider spatial variation in interaction dynamics. We examined the relative importance of ant activity, diversity and species identity in an ant seed dispersal mutualism at local, regional and continental scales. We also studied the determinants of seed dispersal rates and dispersal distances at eight sites in the Eneabba sandplain (29.63 S, 115.22 E), western Australia to understand local variation in seed dispersal rate and distance. To test the generality of the conclusions derived from the eight local sites, we established 16 sites along a 1650-km transect in western Australia, covering 11° of latitude and a six-fold increase in rainfall, at which we sampled the ant assemblage, estimated ant species richness and ant activity and observed the removal rate of myrmecochorous seeds. We also assessed the importance of ant species identity at a continental scale via a review of studies carried out throughout Australia which examined ant seed dispersal. Among the eight sandplain shrubland sites, ant species identity, in particular the presence of one genus, Rhytidoponera, was associated with the most dispersal and above average dispersal distances. At the landscape scale, Rhytidoponera presence was the most important determinant of seed removal rate, while seed removal rate was negatively correlated with ant species richness and latitude. Most ant seed removal studies carried out throughout Australia reinforce our observations that Rhytidoponera species were particularly important seed dispersers. It is suggested that superficially diffuse mutualisms may depend greatly on the identity of particular partners. Even at large biogeographic scales, temporal and spatial variation in what are considered to be diffuse mutualisms may often be linked to variation in the abundance of particular partners, and be only weakly – or negatively – associated with the diversity of partners.

Keywords

Diversity Ecosystem function Functional redundancy Myrmecochory Rhytidoponera 

References

  1. Andersen AN (1986) Diversity, seasonality and community organization of ants at adjacent heath and woodland sites in south-eastern Australia. Aust J Zool 34:53–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersen AN (1988) Dispersal distance as a benefit of myrmecochory. Oecologia 75:507–511CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andersen AN (1990) The use of ant communities to evaluate change in Australian terrestrial ecosystems: a review and a recipe. Proc Ecol Soc Aust 16:347–357Google Scholar
  4. Andersen AN (1991) Responses of ground-foraging ant communities to three experimental fire regimes in a savanna forest of tropical Australia. Biotropica 23:575–585CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Andersen AN (1992) Regulation of “momentary” diversity by dominant species in exceptionally rich ant communities of the Australian seasonal tropics. Am Nat 140:401–420CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Andersen AN (1993) Ant communities in the Gulf Region of Australia’s semi-arid tropics: species composition, patterns of organisation, and biogeography. Aust J Zool 41:399–414CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Andersen AN, Ashton DH (1985) Rates of seed removal by ants at heath and woodland sites in southeastern Australia. Aust J Ecol 10:381–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Andersen AN, McKaige ME (1987) Ant communities at Rotamah Island Victoria, with particular reference to disturbance and Rhytidoponera tasmaniensis. Proc Roy Soc Victoria 99:141–146Google Scholar
  9. Andersen AN, Morrison SC (1998) Myrmecochory in Australia’s seasonal tropics: Effects of disturbance on distance dispersal. Aust J Ecol 23:483–491CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ashton DH (1979) Seed harvesting by ants in forests of Eucalyptus regnans F. Muell in central Victoria. Aust J Ecol 4:265–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Auld TD (1986) Population dynamics of the shrub Acacia suaveolens (Sm.) Willd.: Dispersal and the dynamics of the soil seed-bank. Aust J Ecol 11:235–254CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Auld TD, Denham AJ (1999) The role of ants and mammals in dispersal and post-dispersal seed predation of the shrubs Grevillea (Proteaceae). Plant Ecol 144:201–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Beattie AJ (1985) The evolutionary ecology of ant-plant mutualisms, 1st edn. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  14. Beattie AJ (2006) The evolution of ant pollination systems. Bot Jahrb 127:43–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Beattie AJ, Culver DC (1981) The guild of myrmecochores in the herbaceous flora of West Virginia forests. Ecology 62:107–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Berg RY (1975) Myrmecochorous plants in Australia and their dispersal by ants. Aust J Bot 23:475–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Bestelmeyer BT et al (2000) Field techniques for the study of ground-dwelling ants. In: Agosti D, Majer JD, Alonso LE, Schultz TR (eds) Ants: standard methods for measuring and monitoring biodiversity. Smithsonian Institute Press, Washington D.C., pp 122–144Google Scholar
  18. Brew CR, O’Dowd DJ, Rae ID (1989) Seed dispersal by ants: behaviour-releasing compounds in elaiosomes. Oecologia 80:490–497CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Briese DT, Macauley BJ (1981) Food collection within an ant community in semi-arid Australia, with special reference to seed harvesters. Aust J Ecol 6:1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Calviño-Cancela M, Dunn RR, van Etten EJB, Lamont BB (2006) Emus as non-standard seed dispersers and their potential for long-distance dispersal. Ecography 29:632–640CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Clifford HT, Monteith GB (1989) A three phase seed dispersal mechanism in Australian Quinine Bush (Petalostigma pubescens Domin). Biotropica 21:284–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Colwell RK (2000) User’s guide to EstimateS 6. In. http://viceroyeeb.uconn.edu/estimates
  23. Crawley MJ (2002) Statistical computing: an introduction to data analysis using S-Plus. John Wiley & Sons, LondonGoogle Scholar
  24. Davidson DW, Morton SR (1981) Myrmecochory in some plants (F. Chenopodiaceae) of the Australian arid zone. Oecologia 50:357–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Davidson DW, Morton SR (1984) Dispersal adaptations of some Acacia species in the Australian arid zone. Ecology 65:1038–1051CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Drake WE (1981) Ant-seed interaction in dry sclerophyll forest on North Stradbroke Island, Queensland. Aust J Bot 29:293–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Dunn RR, Parker CR, Sanders NJ (2007a) Disentangling the roles of competition and the environment as drivers of phenological patterns of ant diversity. Biol J Linn Soc (in press)Google Scholar
  28. Dunn RR, Parker CR, Gerhaghty M, Sanders NJ (2007b) Reproductive phenologies in a diverse temperate ant fauna. Ecol Entomol 32:135–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Fellers JH (1987) Interference and exploitation in a guild of woodland ants. Ecology 68:1466–1478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Garrido JL, Rey PJ, Cerdá X, Herrera CM (2002) Geographical variation in diaspore traits of an ant-dispersed plant (Helleborus foetidus): are ant community composition and diaspore traits correlated? J Ecol 90:446–455CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gibb H, Hochuli DF (2003) Colonisation by a dominant ant facilitated by anthropogenic disturbance: effects on ant assemblage composition, biomass and resource use. Oikos 103:469–478CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gilbert LE (1980) Food web organization and the conservation of neotropical diversity. In: Soulé ME, Wilcox BA (eds) Conservation biology: an evolutionary-ecological perspective. Sinauer, Sunderland, pp 11–33Google Scholar
  33. Gill AM, Groves RH, Noble IR (eds) (1981) Fire and the Australian biota. Australian Academy of Science, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  34. Gómez C, Espadaler X (1998) Myrmecochorous dispersal distances: a world survey. J Biogeogr 25:573–580CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Gorb SN, Gorb EV (1999) Effects of ant species composition on seed removal in deciduous forest in eastern Europe. Oikos 84:110–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Gotelli NJ, Entsminger GL (2004) EcoSim: Null models software for ecology. Version 7. Acquired Intelligence Inc/Kesey-Bear, Jericho (http://garyentsminger.com/ecosim/index.htm)
  37. Gross CL, Whalen MA, Andrew MH (1991) Seed selection and removal by ants in a tropical savanna woodland in northern Australia. J Trop Ecol 7:99–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hnatiuk RJ, Hopkins AJM (1981) An ecological analysis of kwongan vegetation south of Eneabba, Western Australia. Aust J Ecol 6:423–438CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Hoffmann BD, Andersen AN (2003) Response of ants to disturbance in Australia, with particular reference to functional groups. Aust Ecol 28:444–464CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Horvitz CC, Schemske DW (1986) Seed dispersal of a neotropical myrmecochore: Variation in removal rates and dispersal distance. Biotropica 18:319–323CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Howe HF (1979) Fear and frugivory. Am Nat 114:925–931CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hughes L, Westoby M (1990) Removal rates of seed adapted for dispersal by ants. Ecology 71:138–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Hughes L, Westoby M (1992) Fates of seed adapted for dispersal by ants in Australian sclerophyll vegetation. Ecology 73:1285–1299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Huston MA (1997) Hidden treatments in ecological experiments: re-evaluating the ecosystem function of biodiversity. Oecologia 110:449–460CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ireland C, Andrew MH (1995) Ants remove virtually all western myall (Acacia papyrocarpa Benth.) seeds at Middleback, South Australia. Aust J Ecol 20:565–570CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Jordano P (1987) Patterns of mutualistic interactions in pollination and seed dispersal: connectance, dependence asymmetries, and coevolution. Am Nat 129:657–677CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kaspari M, Yuan M, Alonso L (2003) Spatial grain and the causes of regional diversity gradients in ants. Am Nat 161:459–477PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lamont BB, Downes S, Fox JED (1977) Importance-value curves and diversity indices applied to species-rich heathland in Western Australia. Nature 265:438–441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Longino JT, Coddington J, Colwell RK (2002) The ant fauna of a tropical rain forest: estimating species richness three different ways. Ecology 83:689–702CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Loreau M et al (2001) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning: current knowledge and future challenges. Science 294:804–808PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Majer JD (1982) Ant-plant interactions in the Darling Botanical District of Western Australia. In: Buckley RC (ed) Ant-plant interactions in Australia. Dr W. Junk Publ, The Hague, pp 45–61Google Scholar
  52. Majer JD (1985) Recolonization by ants of rehabilitated mineral sand mines on North Stradbroke Island, Queensland, with particular reference to seed removal. Aust J Ecol 10:31–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Majer JD, Lamont BB (1985) Removal of seed of Grevillea pteridifolia (Proteaceae) by ants. Aust J Bot 33:611–618CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. May JE, Heterick BE (2000) Effects of the costal brown ant, Pheidole megacephala (Fabricius), on the ant fauna of the Perth metropolitan region, western Australia. Pac Conserv Biol 6:81–85Google Scholar
  55. Mesler MR, Lu KL (1983) Seed dispersal of Trillium ovatum (Liliaceae) in second-growth Redwood forests. Am J Bot 70:1460–1467CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Moles AT, Westoby M. (2003) Latitude, seed predation and seed mass. J Biogeogr 30: 105–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Mossop MK (1989) Comparison of seed removal by ants in vegetation on fertile and infertile soils. Aust J Ecol 14:367–374CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Ness JN, Bronstein JL, Andersen AN, Holland JN (2004) Ant body size predicts dispersal distance of ant-adapted seeds: implications of small-ant invasions. Ecology 85:1244–1250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Parr CL, Andersen AN, Chastagnol C, Duffaud C (2007) Savanna fires increase rate and distances of seed dispersal by ants. Oecologia 151: 33–41PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pfeiffer M, Nais J, Linsenmair KE (2006) Worker size and seed size selection in ‘seed’-collecting ant ensembles (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in primary rain forests on Borneo. J Trop Ecol 22: 685–693CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Rico-Gray V (1993) Use of plant-derived food resources by ants in the dry tropical lowlands of coastal Veracruz, Mexico. Biotropica 25:301–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Schatral A, Kailis SG, Fox JED (1994) Seed dispersal by Hibbertia hypericoides (Dilleniaceae) by ants. J R Soc West Aust 77:81–85Google Scholar
  63. Shattuck SO (1999) Australian ants: their biology and identification. CSIRO, CollingwoodGoogle Scholar
  64. Stanton ML (2003) Interacting guilds: Moving beyond the pairwise perspective on mutualisms. Am Nat 162:S10–S23PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Stocker GC, Irvine AK (1983) Seed dispersal by Cassowaries (Casuarius casuarius) in North Queensland’s rainforests. Biotropica 15:170–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Symstad AJ, Tilman D, Willson J, Knops JMH (1998) Species loss and ecosystem functioning: effects of species identity and community composition. Oikos 81:389–397CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Thompson JN (2005) The geographical mosaic of coevolution. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  68. Traveset A, Riera N (2005) Disruption of a plant-lizard seed dispersal system and its ecological effects on a threatened endemic plant in the Balearic Islands. Conserv Biol 19:421–431CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Vepsäläinen K, Savolainen R (1990) The effect of interference by formicine ants on the foraging of Myrmica. J Anim Ecol 59:643–654CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Whitney KD (2005) Linking frugivores to the dynamics of a fruit color polymorphism. Am J Bot 92:859–867Google Scholar
  71. York A (2000) Long-term effects of frequent low-intensity burning on ant communities in coastal blackbutt forests of southeastern Australia. Aust Ecol 25:83–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Zamora R (2000) Functional equivalence in plant-animal interactions: ecological and evolutionary consequences. Oikos 88:442–447CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aaron D. Gove
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jonathan D. Majer
    • 1
  • Robert R. Dunn
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Ecosystem Diversity and Dynamics, and Department of Environmental BiologyCurtin University of TechnologyPerthAustralia
  2. 2.Department of Zoology and the Keck Center for Behavioral BiologyNorth Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

Personalised recommendations