Seed re-dispersal of four myrmecochorous plants by a keystone ant in central China

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Seed re-dispersal following initial harvesting by ants may have important implications for the distribution and fate of myrmecochorous seeds. However, the probability of seed re-dispersed by ants and the effect it may have on subsequent survival appear variable, the functional role of diaspore, disperser and seed predator to the fate of discarded seeds remain unclear. To clarify the ecology, we compared the consequences of seed re-dispersal by a keystone seed-dispersing ant (Myrmica ruginodis Nylander) for four sympatric myrmecochorous plants common to the temperate deciduous forests in Qinling Mountains, central China. Plants varied in the probability of re-dispersal and in elaiosome condition. Ants preferred seeds with residual elaiosomes, while rodents only consumed the two larger-seeded species, regardless of the elaiosome presence. The scattered distribution of discarded seeds increased the probability of ant re-harvesting and, to some extent, reduced rodent predation. Thus, difference in the probability of seed re-dispersal and its subsequent effect on seed fate in relation to ants and rodents was attributed primarily to the elaiosome condition, seed size and seed spatial pattern. The results imply that seed re-dispersal could affect the fitness of plants and ultimately influence the plant abundance and distribution pattern. This highlights the necessity to incorporate re-dispersal into myrmecochory to advance our understanding of the benefits of myrmecochory to plants.

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Ecological Research

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