Ecology

Coffee plants benefit from ant dung

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Science  13 Oct 2017:
Vol. 358, Issue 6360, pp. 184-185
DOI: 10.1126/science.358.6360.184-a

Weaver ants earn their keep on coffee plants by providing extra fertilization.

PHOTO: NNPHOTOS/SHUTTERSTOCK

Ants and the plants on which they live have evolved to benefit from their close relationship. Plants provide nesting space and food for the ants, which in turn defend the plant against herbivory. In coffee plants, Pinkalski et al. show a previously undescribed aboveground uptake of nutrients provided by weaver ants. Nitrogen in the ants' food was traced using isotopic labeling, allowing the authors to observe that nitrogen in the ants' excretion was absorbed through leaves and translocated throughout the plant. Leaves from plants that hosted ants contained more nitrogen than those that did not. It is not yet known how widespread this phenomenon is, but it may be that canopy fertilization, as well as protection from herbivory, earns ants their keep in relationships with plants.

J. Ecol. 10.1111/1365-2745.12841 (2017).

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