Reaction of mutualistic and granivorous ants to Ulex elaiosome chemicals

Gammans, Nicola; Bullock, James M. ORCID:; Gibbons, Hannah; Schonrogge, Karsten ORCID: 2006 Reaction of mutualistic and granivorous ants to Ulex elaiosome chemicals. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 32 (9). 1935-1947.

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It has been proposed that chemicals on plant elaiosomes aid seed detection by seed-dispersing ants. We hypothesized that the chemical interaction between ants and elaiosomes is more intimate than a generic attraction, and that elaiosome chemicals will attract mutualistic but not granivorous ant species. We investigated this by using two gorse species, Ulex minor and U. europaeus, and two associated ant species from European heathlands, the mutualist Myrmica ruginodis and the granivore Tetramorium caespitum. Behavioral studies were conducted with laboratory nests and foraging arenas. Both ants will take Ulex seeds, but while M. ruginodis showed increased antennation toward ether extracts of elaiosome surface chemicals compared with controls, T. caespitum showed no response. Elaiosome extracts were separated into seven lipid fractions. M. ruginodis showed increased antennation only toward the diglyceride fractions of both Ulex species, whereas T. caespitum showed no consistent reaction. This indicates that M. ruginodis can detect the elaiosome by responding to its surface chemicals, but T. caespitum is unresponsive to these chemicals. Responses to surface chemicals could increase the rate of seed detection in the field, and so these results suggest that Ulex elaiosomes produce chemicals that facilitate attraction of mutualistic rather than granivorous ant species. This could reduce seed predation and increase Ulex fitness.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Programmes pre-2009 publications > Biodiversity
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: _ Population & Conservation Ecology
ISSN: 0098-0331
Format Availability: Electronic, Print
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: The original publication is available at
Additional Keywords: Lipids, Diglycerides, Myrmecochory, Myrmica ruginodis, Seed dispersal, Tetramorium
NORA Subject Terms: Zoology
Date made live: 04 Jul 2007 09:00 +0 (UTC)

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