One common class of ant-plant mutualism involves ants that defend plants from natural enemies in return for food and sometimes shelter. Studies of these interactions have played a major role in shaping our broad understanding of mutualism. Their central contribution has come via their development of approaches to measuring the benefits, costs, and net outcomes of mutualism, and their explicit consideration of variability in all of these phenomena. Current research on these interactions is suggesting ecological and evolutionary hypotheses that may be applicable to many other forms of mutualism. It is also generating comparative data for testing the few general theories about mutualism that currently exist.