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How ants tame the wilderness: Rainforest species use chemicals to identify which plants to prune
Date:5/11/2011

Survival in the depths of the tropical rainforest not only depends on a species' ability to defend itself, but can be reliant on the type of cooperation researchers discovered between ants and tropical trees. The research, published in Biotropica, reveals how the ants use chemical signals on their host tree to distinguish them from competing plant species. Once a competing plant is recognised the ants prune them to defend their host.

The species of plant inhabiting ant Pseudomyrmex triplarinus are found in the Peruvian rainforest and as researchers from Colorado State University found out, they have evolved a symbiotic relationship with Triplaris americana trees, receiving shelter and sustenance in return for defence.

"The ants inhabit hollow channels inside the tree and aggressively fight off any invaders including other plants, yet how these ants recognise their host tree compared to other plants has not been studied," said lead author Dr Tiffany Weir. "We found that the ants distinguish between their host trees and encroaching species through recognition of the plant's surface waxes."

From the Tambopata National Reserve in Peru Dr Weir, and Dr. Jorge Vivanco, the team's leader, used a creative set of experiments to demonstrate how ants inhabiting the branches of T. americana trees recognise species-specific chemical signals embedded in the leaf surface.

Species of grass and fern were harvested from the area and replanted around several T. Americana trees which hosted ants. The team then monitored ant pruning behaviour of these competing species for five weeks.

Detached leaves from several trees, including T. americana, were then attached to host trees with a sewing pin. Daily records revealed that more leaves belonging to non-host plants were removed by the ants.

A similar experiment looked at removal of filter papers coated with surface waxes that had been extracted from h
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Contact: Ben Norman
Lifesciencenews@wiley.com
44-012-437-70375
Wiley-Blackwell
Source:Eurekalert  

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