The Geographical Mosaic of Myrmecochory in a Global Biodiversity Hotspot and the Fate of Myrmecochorous Seeds Dispersed by a Keystone Seed Disperser

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Title: The Geographical Mosaic of Myrmecochory in a Global Biodiversity Hotspot and the Fate of Myrmecochorous Seeds Dispersed by a Keystone Seed Disperser
Author: McCoy, Neil L
Advisors: Nick M Haddad, Committee Member
William A Hoffmann, Committee Member
Rob R Dunn, Committee Chair
Abstract: Seed dispersal mutualisms are important ecological interactions that can shape plant communities by influencing species distributions, community composition, and the regeneration of populations following a disturbance. Considering the fundamental role seed dispersal mutualisms play in many plant communities, it is important to understand, both generally and for individual seed dispersal mutualisms, what determines when animal partners successfully disperse seeds and when they do not. Myrmecochory, the dispersal of seeds by ants, is the most common form of zoochory in Western Australia. Myrmecochore plant diversity is richest in the Kwongan sandplains of the south-west, where ant-dispersed species can make up as much as 36% of the plant community. Here, I studied the determinants of seed dispersal rates to understand local variation in myrmecochorous seed dispersal rates. At a series of 30 sites, we sampled the ant and plant communities, measured aspects of the community structure (vegetation height, openness, topography, soil), measured seed removal rates and observed ant-seed interactions. The most significant factor that governed seed removal rates was the presence of the ant species Rhytidoponera violacea. Additionally, during seed dispersal observation trials, R. violacea removed 95% of all seeds taken. To better understand the fate of Acacia blakelyi seeds dispersed by R. violacea, we simulated variable seed burial depths and elaiosome removal by ants, followed by a bushfire to stimulate germination. Seed burial depth had a significant effect on seedling emergence, with the proportion of emerged seedlings declining with burial depth. The effect of depth was due to the strength of a fire-cue (heat) declining with depth. Seed burial depth also had a fitness cost, with a greater proportion of ‘robust’ seedlings emerging from seeds buried closer to the surface. Seeds buried too deep to receive fire-cues remained dormant, adding to a long-lived soil seed bank.
Date: 2008-12-23
Degree: MS
Discipline: Zoology
URI: http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/resolver/1840.16/1505


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