Novel interactions of non-pollinating ants with pollinators and fruit consumers in a tropical forest
The tropical ants Ectatomma ruidum and E. tuberculatum (Formicidae) regularly patrol leaves, flowers, and fruits of the understory shrub, Psychotria limonensis (Rubiaceae), on Barro Colorado Island, Panama. Ant and pollinator exclusion experiments elucidated both positive and negative effects of ant attendance on plant reproductive success, including pollination, fruit set, fruit loss, and fruit removal. Ants did not pollinate flowers but did contribute to higher pollination success, probably by increasing the relocation frequency of winged pollinators and thus the rate of flower visitation. Ants also prevented fruit loss to herbivorous insects which were common during the early stages of fruit development. Thus, ant attendance strongly improved both pollination and fruit set whereby plants with ants set more fruit per flower and also lost fewer fruits during fruit maturation. In contrast, ants had a negative effect on the removal of ripe fruits by avian frugivores. Thus, ant attendance has a non-trivial influence on plant reproduction, this interaction being beneficial at some stages of the plant reproductive cycle and carrying costs at another stage. A tight ecological or co-evolved relationship between these Ectatomma spp. and P. limonensis is unlikely given that ant attendance of plants is detrimental to fruit removal.
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