In DepthEcology

Don't crush that ant—it could plant a wildflower

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Science  14 Aug 2020:
Vol. 369, Issue 6505, pp. 758-759
DOI: 10.1126/science.369.6505.758

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Summary

Trilliums, bloodroot, violets—many wildflowers of spring in eastern North America bloom thanks to ants. The tiny six-legged gardeners have partnered with those plants as well as about 11,000 others to disperse their seeds. The plants, in turn, "pay" for the service by attaching a calorie-laden appendage to each seed, much akin to fleshy fruits that reward birds and mammals that disperse discarded or pooped out seeds. But far from just transporting the seeds, the ants prefer some seeds over others and possibly keep their charges safe from disease by affecting the microbes living on the seed coat. The importance of this partnership is coming into focus as well. In disturbed forests, where ants can be scarce, seeds may not find their way to fertile ground, and ecosystems can suffer. The work calls attention to the need to consider these creatures in forest restoration efforts.

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