Many well-known plants of Ontario – including the violet, trillium, and bloodroot – have their seeds dispersed by ants. In fact, 30-40% of herbs in the forests of eastern North America have their seeds dispersed in this way, in a mutualism called myrmecochory. In our study, we will look at what the ant and plant partners get out of this apparent cooperation. The plants get their seeds taken away so their offspring can grow in a new area, and those seeds may end up growing in a nutrient-enriched ant nest but which ants do the best job of dispersing the seeds? The ants get a fat- and protein-rich food source called an elaiosome attached to the seed but how important are elaiosomes to the diets of ant colonies?
Kyle Turner, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Toronto