Researchers have discovered that the flowering Conospermum plants in southwestern Australia have grown to allow ants to pollinate them as effectively as native bees.
Nicola Delnevo from the University of Western Australia Edith Cowan said that this is the first plant in the world to be found to have an appropriate pollen trait that allows a beneficial pollination relationship with ants.
Ants love nectar.
' Like many insects, ants love nectar - a plant that attracts pollinators to help disperse pollen to produce seeds that can germinate and grow into plants again.
But ants secrete an antibacterial liquid to avoid bacterial and mold infections, which unfortunately, also kill pollen grains. That's why ants have been considered a threat to nectar , '' Delnevo said.
According to the researchers, nearly 90% of wild flowering plants rely on animals to disperse their gametes to produce fruits and seeds - about 88% of them are insects. But environmental degradation is impacting this process. Trees are getting less and less because people are clearing land for other jobs. Without pollination there is no future for these plants.
Observing the C. undulatum shrub on the Swan Coast Plain, a biodiversity hotspot also known as Kwongan, Delnevo noticed native ants - including sugar ants (Camponotus consobrinus), ants Meat (Iridomyrmex purpureus) and cow ants (Myrmecia infima) with a native species of bee (Leioproctus conospermi).
To investigate their role in pollination, he and his team gathered fresh pollen from the flowers of several different species and other plant species, along with other native ants and bees. each, and send them back to the lab to conduct the test.
After exposure to ants, the germination rate is about 80% - not unlike native bees.
'We found evidence that the Conospermum plants adapted the biochemistry of their pollen seeds to deal with the antimicrobial properties of ants. The ants also carry large numbers of plant-related pollen, indicating that they are an important contributor to seed dispersal. That's good news because honey bees - imported - aren't good for plants with a growing structure to optimize the pollination of native bees , ' Delnevo said.
'Our research shows the importance of pollination as well as the ecological role ants can play in the area. This underscores the complexity of the interactions between ants and flowers, whose understanding of these systems is still in its infancy. '
Details of the study appear in the journal Annals of Botany.