The interaction between Cistaceae and a highly specific seed-harvester ant in a Mediterranean scrubland


  • Editor
    J. Arroyo

F. Bastida, Departamento de Ciencias Agroforestales, Campus de La Rábida, Universidad de Huelva, Ctra. Palos s/n, 21819 Palos de la Frontera, Huelva, Spain.


We studied the interaction between the ant Goniomma kugleri and Cistaceae in a Cistus ladanifer-dominated scrubland, in southwestern Spain. We monitored seed harvesting, and studied ant preferences among Cistaceae seeds and their capture efficiencies for preferred seeds. For the stand of C. ladanifer, we estimated seed losses due to the ants. Harvesting was restricted to two seasons: mid-autumn to late winter, and late spring. Ant diet relied on Cistaceae seeds: during autumn and winter 90% of seeds returned to nests were of C. ladanifer, and the remaining fraction also comprised Cistaceae seeds. At this time, the ants harvested seeds directly from the plants. In late spring, the ant diet consisted of Tuberaria guttata s.l. seeds. Goniomma kugleri selectively collected Cistaceae seeds. For preferred species, seed removal rates at the colony level and seed capture times invested by individual workers were correlated with seed size. Because of shorter capture time and higher success frequency, capture efficiency in terms of number of seeds captured per unit time was higher for small-seeded species. Although each ant colony collected large numbers (up to 105) of C. ladanifer seeds over the autumn–winter season, the impact of ant removal on the annual seed output was moderate, at around 20%. It is likely that, in C. ladanifer, the staggered seed release period, and the pulsed exposure of seed clumps in capsules through progressive locule dehiscence, effectively minimise seed losses to the ants.