Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Ants are friendly to some trees, but not others

10.11.2009
Tree-dwelling ants generally live in harmony with their arboreal hosts. But new research suggests that when they run out of space in their trees of choice, the ants can get destructive to neighboring trees.

The research, published in the November issue of the American Naturalist, is the first to document that ants bore into live trees, and it reopens a centuries-old debate on the relationship between ants and plants.

Ants and certain species of plants and trees have cozy relationships. Myrmecophytes, also knows as ant-plants, have hollow stems or roots that occur as a normal part of their development. Ant colonies often take residence in these hollows. To protect their homes, the ants patrol the area around the tree, killing insects that want to eat the plant's leaves and sometimes destroying vegetation of other plants that might compete for precious soil nutrients and sunlight. The relationship is a classic biological mutualism. The ants get a nice place to live; the trees get protection. Everybody wins.

But while researching ant-plants in the Amazonian rainforests of Peru, Douglas Yu of the University of East Anglia and Glenn Shepard of Sao Paulo University were tipped off by the local people about a strange phenomenon. The natives showed the researchers several non-myrmecophyte trees with swollen scars called galls on their trunks and branches. When the researchers cut into the galls, they found that ants had excavated tunnels into the live wood.

"Ants are superb ecosystem engineers," David Edwards the lead author of the study said, "but this is the first example of ants galling trees to make housing."

Megan Frederickson, a Harvard biologist and member of the research team, searched 1,000 square kilometers of forest and found numerous galled trees inhabited by ants, suggesting the behavior is not uncommon. The galled trees were only found on the edges of "Devil's gardens"—ant-made forest clearings that surround stands of ant-plants. It appears, the researchers say, that when the colonies fill the available space in the ant-plants, they branch out and carve new nests into neighboring trees.

The discovery reopens a debate that raged among Charles Darwin and his contemporaries about the relationship between ants and plants. Darwin believed—rightly as it turned out—the hollow spaces in ant-plants occurred as part of the plant's normal development. Since the ants did no damage to the plant, the relationship could be considered a mutualism. Botanist Richard Spruce disagreed. He believed the ants bored the hollows themselves and that the trees needed ants "like a dog needs fleas." In Spruce's view, ants are parasites.

Studies in the 1960s showed definitively that ant-plant hollows occur normally, vindicating Darwin. But this latest finding that ants do gall non-myrmecophytic trees shows that Spruce wasn't so wrong after all.

David P. Edwards, Megan E. Frederickson, Glenn H. Shepard and Douglas W. Yu, "A Plant Needs Ants like a Dog Needs Fleas: Myrmelachista schumanni Ants Gall Many Tree Species to Create Housing." The American Naturalist 174:5 (Nov. 2009).

Since its inception in 1867, the American Naturalist has maintained its position as one of the world's most renowned, peer-reviewed publications in ecology, evolution, and population and integrative biology research.

Kevin Stacey | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.uchicago.edu

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Climate Impact Research in Hannover: Small Plants against Large Waves
17.08.2018 | Leibniz Universität Hannover

nachricht First transcription atlas of all wheat genes expands prospects for research and cultivation
17.08.2018 | Leibniz-Institut für Pflanzengenetik und Kulturpflanzenforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Color effects from transparent 3D-printed nanostructures

New design tool automatically creates nanostructure 3D-print templates for user-given colors
Scientists present work at prestigious SIGGRAPH conference

Most of the objects we see are colored by pigments, but using pigments has disadvantages: such colors can fade, industrial pigments are often toxic, and...

Im Focus: Unraveling the nature of 'whistlers' from space in the lab

A new study sheds light on how ultralow frequency radio waves and plasmas interact

Scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles present new research on a curious cosmic phenomenon known as "whistlers" -- very low frequency packets...

Im Focus: New interactive machine learning tool makes car designs more aerodynamic

Scientists develop first tool to use machine learning methods to compute flow around interactively designable 3D objects. Tool will be presented at this year’s prestigious SIGGRAPH conference.

When engineers or designers want to test the aerodynamic properties of the newly designed shape of a car, airplane, or other object, they would normally model...

Im Focus: Robots as 'pump attendants': TU Graz develops robot-controlled rapid charging system for e-vehicles

Researchers from TU Graz and their industry partners have unveiled a world first: the prototype of a robot-controlled, high-speed combined charging system (CCS) for electric vehicles that enables series charging of cars in various parking positions.

Global demand for electric vehicles is forecast to rise sharply: by 2025, the number of new vehicle registrations is expected to reach 25 million per year....

Im Focus: The “TRiC” to folding actin

Proteins must be folded correctly to fulfill their molecular functions in cells. Molecular assistants called chaperones help proteins exploit their inbuilt folding potential and reach the correct three-dimensional structure. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB) have demonstrated that actin, the most abundant protein in higher developed cells, does not have the inbuilt potential to fold and instead requires special assistance to fold into its active state. The chaperone TRiC uses a previously undescribed mechanism to perform actin folding. The study was recently published in the journal Cell.

Actin is the most abundant protein in highly developed cells and has diverse functions in processes like cell stabilization, cell division and muscle...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

LaserForum 2018 deals with 3D production of components

17.08.2018 | Event News

Within reach of the Universe

08.08.2018 | Event News

A journey through the history of microscopy – new exhibition opens at the MDC

27.07.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Smallest transistor worldwide switches current with a single atom in solid electrolyte

17.08.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Robots as Tools and Partners in Rehabilitation

17.08.2018 | Information Technology

Climate Impact Research in Hannover: Small Plants against Large Waves

17.08.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>