The abandoned mutualist: When ants take their business elsewhere

DSC08089_sAnt-plant mutualisms are ubiquitous in tropical areas. In these examples of cooperation in nature, plants provide nutrition and shelter for ants that live on their leaves and branches. In return, the ants provide defense, kicking out (or even killing) any herbivores that try to eat the plant. The evolution of this relationship suggests that both species now need each other for survival. But Heraldo Vasconcelos of the University of Uberlandia in Brazil noticed something strange: in some populations of an ant-plant in the genus Tococa, plants lacked ant mutualists. Join us as he tells us about his paper in the September issue of Ecology, taking us on a trip into the Brazilian cerrado, where the plight of the antless ant-plants might not be so bad after all.

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