Removal of seeds from frugivore defecations by ants in a Costa Rican rain forest

M. M. Byrne, D. J. Levey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


At our Costa Rican field site, seeds defecated by frugivorous birds usually do not remain where they have been deposited. Many species of ants are attracted to frugivore defecations and remove seeds and/or pulp. Pheidole species selectively remove seeds, fungus-growing species (tribe Attini) remove both pulp and seeds. Seeds of many Melastomataceae have an appendage, which we hypothesized is an elaiosome. Indeed, preference trials demonstrated that two species of Pheidole selected seeds with the appendage over seeds of the same species in which the appendage had been removed. However, we found that these ants did not take the appendage when it was offered by itself. We conclude that the appendage is not an elaiosome. In further trials, different ant species preferentially selected different seed species. These ants consumed some seeds and deposited others unharmed in refuse piles. We conclude that because the composition of leaf-litter ant communities is highly variable between neighboring square meter plots, and the probability of seed predation depends upon the species of ant, the over-all effect of ants on seed shadows and seed banks is spatially unpredictable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)363-374
Number of pages12
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 1 1993


  • Ants
  • Pheidole
  • Seed dispersal
  • Seed predation
  • Seed preference
  • Spatial heterogeneity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Plant Science


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