Temperatures in the African savanna affect ant/plant mutualism
By University of Florida
In the wide world of tropical flora, insects often take up the mantle of protecting the plants that shelter them, each mutually satisfied in a happy marriage of nature’s making. This is particularly true for acacia trees that tower over the African savanna. Their tiny protectors are carnivorous ants that dissuade animals from browsing on their thorny branches. Biologists and ecologists know this symbiotic relationship well, but until now no one realized that these ant-plant mutualisms could be strongly affected by temperature. In a study published May 16 in the journal Ecology, University of Florida researcher Ryan Tamashiro and biology professor Todd Palmer show that ant-protected plants are much more vulnerable to herbivores during the cool hours of early morning and evening.