Dual role of harvesting ants as seed predators and dispersers of a non-myrmechorous Mediterranean perennial herb

Javier Retana, F. Xavier Picó, Anselm Rodrigo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)


Ants have been traditionally considered either as predators or dispersers of seeds, but not both. That is, ant dispersal is restricted to myrmecochorous seeds, while almost all seeds removed by seed-harvesting ants are eaten. However, harvesting ants might be simultaneously antagonistic and mutualistic towards seeds. This study analyzes the predation-dispersal relationship between seed-harvesting ants and seeds of Lobularia maritima, a non-myrmechorous perennial herb, in order to disentangle the dual role of ants as dispersers and predators of I. maritima seeds. The results obtained confirm the role of harvesting ants as both predators and dispersers of the non-myrmechorous seeds of L. maritima. The removal activity of Messor bouvieri on L. maritima seeds is very important, particularly in autumn, which is the flowering and fruiting peak of this plant. It can be estimated that harvesting ants collect more than 85% of seeds, and almost 70% of them are effectively lost to predation. However, these granivorous ants also have drawbacks as seed dispersers. There is a relatively small percent of seeds collected by ants that escape predation, either because they are dropped on the way to the nest (16.4% of seeds harvested), or because they are mistakenly rejected on the refuse pile (0.9%). Abiotic dispersal of L. maritima seeds in the absence of ants occurs over very short distances from the plant stem. As seeds dispersed by ants reach a considerably greater distance than that obtained by gravity, this might represent a real advantage for the species, because it reduces intraspecific adult competition for seedlings, which directly influences seedling survivorship. These results challenge the generalization that seed removal by ants generally leads to successful seed dispersal if done by legitimate seed dispersers, or seed loss if done by seed consumers that eat them, and confirm that harvesting ants might have a dual role as both predators and dispersers of nonmyrmechorous seeds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-385
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2004


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