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The Ecology of a Keystone Seed Disperser, the Ant Rhytidoponera Violacea

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The Ecology of a Keystone Seed Disperser, the Ant Rhytidoponera Violacea

Dave Lubertazzi et al. J Insect Sci.

Abstract

Rhytidoponera violacea (Forel) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) is a keystone seed disperser in Kwongan heathl and habitats of southwestern Australia. Like many myrmecochorous ants, little is known about the basic biology of this species. In this study various aspects of the biology of R. violacea were examined and the researchers evaluated how these characteristics may influence seed dispersal. R. violacea nesting habits (relatively shallow nests), foraging behavior (scramble competitor and lax food selection criteria), and other life history characteristics complement their role as a mutualist that interacts with the seeds of many plant species.

Figures

Figure 1.
Figure 1.
Distribution of Rhytidoponera violacea. Collections records are from the Australian National Insect Collection database. The boundary of the Geraldton Sandplains, found along the central western coast, is outlined and the circled star shows the approximate location of Eneabba. High quality figures are available online.
Figure 2.
Figure 2.
The proportional representation of food items being brought back to the nest by returning Rhytidoponera violacea foragers. See methods section for an explanation of the classes. Photo by Benoit Guenard. High quality figures are available online.
Figure 3.
Figure 3.
Histogram showing the foraging-distance distribution for 52 randomly encountered Rhytidoponera violacea foragers. High quality figures are available online.
Figure 4.
Figure 4.
A cast of a typical nest of Rhytidoponera violacea. The nest is relatively shallow, with the bottom chamber reaching a depth of 25cm. The proportion of seeds within a nest is shown on the right (n = 6 nests, Dunn et al. 2008). Note that seeds are concentrated near the ground surface and at the deepest nest chambers. The area between the two dashed lines indicates the greatest depth to which a “typical” fire is likely to warm the soil sufficiently to trigger the germination of seeds. High quality figures are available online.

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