Complex ant-plant interactions: rain forest ants as secondary dispersers and post-dispersal seed predators

D. J. Levey, M. M. Byrne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

193 Scopus citations


Describes the role of leaf-litter ants (Pheidole spp.) in the seed bank dynamics of several small-seeded shrubs in a Costa Rican lowland rain forest (La Selva). These ants harvest seeds from frugivore feces and cache them in their nests in partially decomposed twigs. Most harvested seeds are eaten but some are placed in viable condition on refuse piles. From 24-38% of the colonies contained cached seeds and 25-32% have seeds on refuse piles. Experiments with captive colonies of Pheidole nebulosa and P. nigricula demonstrated that c6% of harvested Miconia nervosa and M. centrodesma seeds are deposited on refuse piles. Because seeds generally retain viability longer than the nest twig remains intact, harvested seeds are not trapped inside twigs. Experimental plantings of 4-d-old Miconia nervosa seedlings on two types of substrate (ant refuse pile vs. topsoil) under two light levels demonstrated that seedlings grew faster and survived better on refuse piles under light levels typical of small clearings. Ants are thus simultaneously antagonistic and mutualistic towards seeds, killing most but significantly benefiting some. This interaction is extremely common (Pheidole density >300 individuals/m2) and likely influences plant recruitment patterns. -from Authors

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1802-1812
Number of pages11
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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