Myrmecochory, or seed dispersal by ants, is an important ecosystem service. North American deciduous forests are a hotspot of myrmecochory, with 30-40% of woodland forbs being dispersed by ants, including many well-known plants such as violets, trilliums, bloodroot, and wild ginger. Aphaenogaster rudis is a keystone seed disperser responsible for ~74 % of seed dispersal events in these ecosystems. This project investigates the phenological match up between the timing of seed dehiscence and ant forging activity. By offering seeds to ant colonies in the forest throughout the spring and summer, we will examine the relationship between when ants are dispersing the most seeds and when the natural plant community is producing seeds. We will also examine how long it takes A. rudis colonies to satiate, or become disinterested in and stop dispersing seeds, and how this correlates with the length of time seeds are naturally dehiscing. These results could offer important insights into the structuring of plant communities by A. rudis. This will also allow us to setup a database for understanding how the timing of species interactions might change in the future with warming temperatures.
Principal Investigator: Megan Frederickson