Choosing benefits or partners: A review of the evidence for the evolution of myrmecochory

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97 Scopus citations


Myrmecochory, or seed dispersal by ants, is a dispersal syndrome found among several thousand plant species occupying different ecosystems and geographical regions. Typically, ants benefit from consuming a lipid-rich appendage on the seed and in return provide seed dispersal service to the plant. Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the selective advantage for plants resulting from myrmecochory, including directed dispersal, dispersal for distance and escape from seed predators. I contrast the evidence available in the literature for these hypotheses and distinguish the studies on the basis of ecosystem and plant growth forms. The predator-avoidance and the distance dispersal hypotheses were supported in most studies that addressed them, and the directed dispersal hypothesis was supported in about half of the studies that tested it. Multiple hypotheses were supported in most studies that tested more than one hypothesis, suggesting that the various selective advantages conferred from myrmecochory are seldom exclusive. I also review evidence for the hypothesis that plants have evolved adaptations both for selecting seed dispersers and for manipulating the behavior of those dispersers. Based on this evidence, I argue that focusing future research on the evolution of partner choice by myrmecochores and its effects on the overall plant fitness will be more fruitful than putting an emphasis on classifying the selective advantage to plants into distinct categories and test for their existence separately.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)481-492
Number of pages12
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2006
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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