Archive for November, 2007

Novel mutualism

An article on the ant plant Humboldtia brunonis from Western Ghats, India.

Megha Shenoy & Renee M Borges. A novel mutualism between an ant-plant and its resident pollinator. Naturwissenschaften DOI 10.1007/s00114-007-0289-0

Pollination systems in which the host plant provides breeding sites for pollinators, invariably within flowers, are usually highly specialized mutualisms. We found that the pollinating bee Braunsapis puangensis breeds within the caulinary domatia of the semi-myrmecophyte Humboldtia brunonis (Fabaceae), an unusual antplant that is polymorphic for the presence of domatia and harbours a diverse invertebrate fauna including protective and non-protective ants in its domatia. B. puangensis is the most common flower visitor that carries the highest proportion of H. brunonis pollen. This myrmecophyte is pollen limited and cross-pollinated by bees in the daytime. Hence, the symbiotic pollinator could provide a benefit to trees bearing domatia by alleviating this limitation. We therefore report for the first time an unspecialisedmutualism in which a pollinator is housed in a plant structure other than flowers. Here, the cost to the plant is lower than for conventional brood-site pollination mutualisms where the pollinator develops at the expense of plant reproductive structures. Myrmecophytes housing resident pollinators are unusual, as ants are known to be enemies of pollinators, and housing them together may decrease the benefits that these residents could individually provide to the host plant.

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An interesting report by Steiner et al on the ant Lasius austriacus where the authors show that monogynous colonies of this ant species lacks aggression between colonies. In fact workers ‘integrate’ across colonies, maintaining self-nonself discrimination. This paper argues that the lack of aggression in ant colonies (documented only in 21 species till date) could be the first stage of establishing peace and this in turn could lead to super colonies. The results shown in Figure 1 of this article, which shows genetic relatedness, aggression, discrimination and cuticular hydrocarbons variation at different geographic distances [0-100 km] is simply stunning.

Steiner FM, Schlick-Steiner BC, Moder K, Stauffer C, Arthofer W, Buschinger A, Espadaler X, Christian E, Einfinger K, Lorbeer E, Schafellner C, Ayasse M & Crozier RH. 2007. Abandoning Aggression but Maintaining Self-Nonself Discrimination as a First Stage in Ant Supercolony Formation. Current Biology 17: 1903-1907.

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