Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 391–403

The function of ant repellence by flowers: testing the “nectar protection” and “pollinator protection” hypotheses

  • Francisco G. Gonzálvez
  • J. Chen
  • Miguel A. Rodríguez-Gironés
Original Paper


According to the “nectar protection” and “pollinator protection” hypotheses, ant repellents in flowers have evolved to prevent ants from exploiting floral nectar and chasing away pollinators, respectively. We used weaver ants, Oecophylla smaragdina, to determine the strength of ant repellence in 32 bee-pollinated plant species and used the comparative method to test whether nectar production, size of pollinating bees and plant growth form were related to floral repellence. Flowers were more likely to repel ants if they offered nectar as a reward and were pollinated by small bees than if they were nectarless and pollinated by large bees. Furthermore, tree flowers were more likely than shrub or vine flowers to repel ants. Our results validate the pollinator protection hypothesis and the nectar protection hypothesis. Depending on the ecological context, therefore, ant repellents can function as direct or indirect exploitation barriers: they can prevent ants from removing nectar without effecting pollination (direct barriers) and, when flowers are pollinated by large bees, the absence of ant repellents—or even the presence of ant attractants—can result in ants chasing small ineffective pollinators away (indirect barriers).


Ant repellents Nectar Bee size Plant growth form Pollination 

Supplementary material

10682_2014_9742_MOESM1_ESM.docx (22 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 21 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francisco G. Gonzálvez
    • 1
  • J. Chen
    • 2
  • Miguel A. Rodríguez-Gironés
    • 1
  1. 1.Estación Experimental de Zonas Áridas, EEZA-CSICAlmeriaSpain
  2. 2.Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical GardenChinese Academy of SciencesMenglaChina

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