Can floral repellents pre-empt potential ant–plant conflicts?


  • Editor, A. Agrawal


Ants, by consuming floral nectar, are potential parasites of plant–pollinator mutualisms, the persistence of which depends on mechanisms preventing ants from visiting flowers. Here I report the existence of such a mechanism which, uniquely, appears general in its effects. I show that two acacia–ant mutualists are repelled by floral tissue chemicals from their own host-plants as well as those from 13 other plant genera, only one of which associates symbiotically with ants. Furthermore, 18 of 25 ant species, from several subfamilies representing degrees of ant–plant interaction, are repelled by acacia floral chemicals. Thus floral ant repellents are widespread among plants, repel most ant species, and can prevent ants from parasitizing plant–pollinator mutualisms.