Sunday, February 5, 2017

Weekend Walkabout: Let's Visit the Ant Farm!

Thanks to Alert Gardener Jim from Florida, we are going to learn more about ants today than might make us comfortable:

Hello, fellow gardeners! We all know about ants herding and tending aphids for their nectar. This work demonstrates that ants actively cultivate a supportive, growth-friendly ecosystem for six different species of epiphytic plants in Fiji. The ants manage the growing conditions, disperse the cultivated plants' seeds, and pollinate their flowers. The ants then eat the fruits from their gardens.

Pretty remarkable considering that H. sapiens only mastered the technique about 13,000 years ago!

Ants farming plants     Sacha Vignieri  Science  11/25/16 

Mutualistic interactions between ants and plants are relatively common, most often occurring in plants that produce specific structures for ant occupation. A relationship that more closely approximates farming occurs between ants and fungi, in which ants actively create growing conditions for and propagate the fungal partner. Chomicki and Renner now describe a system in Fiji in which ants in the genus Philidris conduct such gardening activities in six different species of epiphytic plants, often simultaneously. Specifically, they not only manage growing conditions but also disperse and plant seeds and pollinate flowers. This more intensive management helps to ensure reestablishment of plants that provide fruits and resources to the ants and that might otherwise be harder to come by.       Nat. Plants 10.1038/nplants.2016.181 (2016).
Tillies Living Free and in the Wild, MRobb, 2014

Some of my Tillies only do well if they are outside attracting ants. Some do well inside, but only start to pup if they are outside, full of ants! Are the ants bringing them needed nutrition, or are those tickly little feet a signal that it's time to start reproducing? I'd sure like to know, and I'd like to know what that swarm of black ants was doing near my living room window yesterday....
C. Addams from Monster Rally: "Goodness, Murray, it wouldn't be a picnic without ants!"
Have a wonderful weekend walkabout, and be careful what, or who, you step on!


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