The evolutionary effects of a tropical ant-seed interaction are examined by posing questions about the fate of Calathea seeds carried by neotropical ants. Where do ants take seeds and what do they do with them? How do ant behaviors affect seed germination? Treatment of seeds by ants is determined by a series of seed-fate trials in captive colonies. There is no evidence of seed predation by ants. Odontomachus laticeps, Pachycondyla spp, and Solenopsis geminata rapidly displace seeds to ant nests, determine the microsites of seeds, and remove the seed arils for food. The seed arils are rich in lipids. The effects on germination of microsite selection and aril removal are quantitatively evaluated. Seeds which are immediately taken to a consistently moist spot germinate readily; 72% germinate, with a mean germination speed of 29 days. For such seeds aril removal does not significantly affect germination. In contrast, seeds which experience a delay before encountering appropriate germination conditions seem to exhibit an induced dormancy (sensu, Harper 1977) and a lower germination percentage. They take longer to germinate (up to 85 days) even after conditions become appropriate. It appears that their germination is enhanced by aril removal, which may act as an environmental cue to break dormancy. Such a mechanism would indicate that ant-handling of seeds is predictive of favorable conditions for seedling growth and establishment. The exact nature of such conditions and the effects on plant population dynamics remain to be seen.
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