Ants & Plants 3: Tree Fortresses(76)More files...
Dr. Mark W. Moffett
Ants and plants have developed many curious relationships, some positive, some negative. Extreme examples occur with tropical plants called myrmecophytes, or ant plants, which provide their insect guests with housing and often food. Many of these ant plants are vines or other types of tree-top vegetation, but in the examples shown here, the hosts are the trees and shrubs themselves. Dr. Mark W. Moffett explored, documented, and marveled at whole groves of ant trees in Brazil and Borneo, in areas where biting and stinging ants are the true lords of the jungle.
Often the ants' behaviors can be interpreted as self-serving: The worker killing eggs gets a meal; the one gnawing vines destroys a route that might be used by invading enemies. In other cases workers defend particular part of the pant that affects their tree's long-term health and reproductive ability with no apparent immediate benefits to the ants.
Either way the interaction tends to be beneficial in the long term to both ant and plant- a symbiotic relationship that ecologists call mutualism. But as I will show you, sometimes this relationship breaks down, as when parasitic ants seize control of a tree.