Ants and plants
Seed dispersal by ants (myrmecochory) still provides numerous interesting questions concerning dispersal patterns and mutualistic benefits to both ants and plants. Furthermore, ants, beyond their role as seed-dispersers are involved in a variety of ecological processes. The author investigates the benefits of myrmecochory for both ants and plants and studies the role of ants as bioindicators for conservation activities. Although myrmecochory has been extensively studied with respect to the benefits to plants, specific studies of dispersal patterns influenced by ants are very scarce and mostly unvalidated. This work therefore studies the seed dispersal pattern of a set of myrmecochorous plant species in two novel mesocosm experiments by comparing seed dispersal with ants present and absent. The contribution of a rather small-sized but highly abundant ant species of Central Europe, Temnothorax crassispinus, to myrmecochory is studied in particular and the benefit of the plants derived from their dispersal activity is assessed. The findings are discussed and illustrated and an outlook is presented about future research perspectives. Furthermore, a meta-analysis of the specificity of seed dispersal by ants is undertaken. Despite the lack of species-specific relations in myrmecochory, where it is shown that especially seeds with very low seed mass and those with very high seed mass are dependent on both small and large ants, respectively, for their dispersal.