The reproductive biology of the myrmecophyte, Hirtella physophora, and the limitation of negative interactions between pollinators and ants

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Myrmecophytism occurs in plants that offer ants a nesting space and, often, food rewards in exchange for protection from predators and competitors. Such biotic protection by ants can, however, interfere with the activity of pollinators leading to potential negative consequences for the plant’s reproduction. In this study, we focused on the association between the understory myrmecophyte, Hirtella physophora (Chrysobalanaceae), and its obligate ant partner, Allomerus decemarticulatus (Myrmicinae). We investigated the reproductive biology of H. physophora and the putative mechanisms that may limit ant–pollinator conflict. Our results show that H. physophora is an obligate outcrosser, self-incompatible, and potentially insect-pollinated species. The reproduction of H. physophora relies entirely on pollen transfer by pollinators that are likely quite specific. Potential interference between flower-visiting insects during pollination may also be lessened by a spatial and temporal segregation of ant and pollinator activities, thus enabling pollen transfer and fruit production.

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We are grateful to the Laboratoire Environnement de Petit Saut for its logistical assistance, to Andrea Dejean for proofreading the manuscript, to Stéphanie Montembault, Isabelle Henry and Mathieu Duvignau for technical assistance, to Marc Gibernau for advice on statistical analyses, to Jean-Philippe Champenois for identifying the stingless bees and to Jérôme Barbut for identifying the Geometridae. Financial support was provided by the Fondation pour la Recherche sur la Biodiversité (research Agreement No. AAP-IN-2009-050), by the Programme Convergence 20072013 Région Guyane from the European Community (BI-Appli, ref. 115/SGAR-DE/2011/052274). This study has also benefited from ‘‘Investissement d’Avenir’’ grants managed by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (CEBA, ref. ANR-10-LABX-25-01 and TULIP, ref. ANR-10-LABX-0041).

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Correspondence to Jérôme Orivel.

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Handling Editor: Heikki Hokkanen.

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Movie S1. Footage of a Mecoceras sp. (Geometridae) visiting an Hirtella physophora inflorescence. Monitoring was performed using an infrared security camera coupled with a movement detector and a digital video recorder. The moth’s behaviour is consistent with its potential role as a pollinator. (WMV 1123 kb)

Figure S1. Photographs of the reproductive parts of Hirtella physophora during the different stages of anthesis and fruiting. (A) Flower buds are segregated on fasciculate racemous inflorescences; (B) as the flower opens, the stamens and the style progressively uncoil; (C) flowers are characterized by a pentamerous perianth with five pale pink to white petals alternating with the sepal. Allomerus decemarticulatus workers can be observed foraging at the mouth of the floral cup; (D) once the flowers are completely open, the stigma from one flower is several centimetres away from that flower’s anthers, but can be very close to the anthers of another flower; (E-F) the fruit is a fleshy drupe. (JPEG 4670 kb)

Movie S1. Footage of a Mecoceras sp. (Geometridae) visiting an Hirtella physophora inflorescence. Monitoring was performed using an infrared security camera coupled with a movement detector and a digital video recorder. The moth’s behaviour is consistent with its potential role as a pollinator. (WMV 1123 kb)

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Malé, P.G., Leroy, C., Lusignan, L. et al. The reproductive biology of the myrmecophyte, Hirtella physophora, and the limitation of negative interactions between pollinators and ants. Arthropod-Plant Interactions 9, 23–31 (2015).

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  • Ant-plant
  • Ant–pollinator interactions
  • Floral structure and display
  • Plant reproductive biology
  • Spatial and temporal segregation