Harvester ants have traditionally been considered as seed predators that negatively affect plants. In some cases, however, they can also act as positive seed dispersers. During field observations, we noted that a portion of Psoralea bituminosa seeds that were collected and carried to the nest by the granivorous harvester ant Messor barbarus were discarded intact in refuse piles outside the nest. We analyzed and compared the physical characteristics of size, mass and toughness in P. bituminosa seeds from two different origins: intact seeds found in the ant's refuse piles and seeds collected directly from the plants. Seeds from refuse piles were similar in width but lighter and tougher than seeds from the plant. Our results point to a mechanical defence based on seed toughness to avoid predation by M. barbarus and suggest that an elevated proportion (~69%) of the seeds produced by P. bituminosa could be too tough to be consumed by this ant. These transported but uneaten seeds could benefit by being moved far from the mother plant and this could act as a selective evolutionary pressure towards tough seeds. © 2008 Springer-Verlag.
|Publication status||Published - 1 Jun 2008|
- Messor barbarus
- Psoralea bituminosa
- Seed predation
- Seed toughness