Thanks to numerous lectures by a visiting professor, I’ve learned quite a bit about myrmecophily: the beneficial associations between ants and other organisms such as plants, arthropods, or fungi. These I gladly share with you over the next few posts.
Ants and Plants: The Bullhorn Acacia
The bullhorn acacia, Acacia cornigera, is commonly found in association with Pseudomyrmex ant species. In exchange for defense, the Acacia provides shelter for ants (domatia), carbohydrate rich nectar (extrafloral nectar), and lipid-protein packets (food/Beltian bodies). The ants protect the tree against herbivory by other arthropods or even mammals. There is evidence that the Acacia tightly monitor their relationship with mutualistic ants. One way is by pre-digesting sugar for ants that lack such digestive enzymes. Evolutionarily cool.