Ant Plant Adaptations

June 23, 2016

I am not a botanist, however even I think these plant’s adaptations are interesting. Myrmecophyte, literally meaning “ant plant”, is a plant that lives in a mutualistic association with a colony of ants.

The plants provide ants with food and/or shelter through structural adaptations. These specialised structures include internal cavities for habitation by ants; food bodies which produce specific nutrients for ants; or sugar producing glands which provide food for ants. In exchange for food and shelter, the ants assist the plants with pollination, seed dispersal, gathering of essential nutrients, and/or defense.

Myrmecodia beccarii

Myrmecodia beccarii is an ant plant that is endemic to Australia. It only occurs in the mangroves and lowland forests around Cairns and northern Cape York. In our current project, these plants are located on the edge of our work sites for the maintenance of the high voltage towers.

The adaptations of these plants are enlarged stems forming tuber-like structures which are covered in ridges and spines. When the plant grows, tissue within the tuber dies back forming hollow chambers. These chambers allow ants, mostly Iridomyrmex cordatus, to enter the plant.

A mutual relationship exists between the plant and ants. The plant provides protective shelter for the ants and in turn the ants provide additional nutrients to the plant with its food leftovers.

Additional control measures have been implemented to protect these plants during the maintenance operations such as erecting containment curtains around the plants. As the operations are coming to completion, and the control measures are being removed, I am happy to reported that there has been no disturbance of these plants or ants.