Journal Article

Ant species identity mediates reproductive traits and allocation in an ant-garden bromeliad

Céline Leroy, Bruno Corbara, Laurent Pélozuelo, Jean-François Carrias, Alain Dejean and Régis Céréghino

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 109, issue 1, pages 145-152
Published in print January 2012 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online October 2011 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Ant species identity mediates reproductive traits and allocation in an ant-garden bromeliad

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

Determining the sources of variation in floral morphology is crucial to understanding the mechanisms underlying Angiosperm evolution. The selection of floral and reproductive traits is influenced by the plant's abiotic environment, florivores and pollinators. However, evidence that variations in floral traits result from mutualistic interactions with insects other than pollinators is lacking in the published literature and has rarely been investigated. We aimed to determine whether the association with either Camponotus femoratus or Pachycondyla goeldii (both involved in seed dispersal and plant protection) mediates the reproductive traits and allocation of Aechmea mertensii, an obligatory ant-garden tank-bromeliad, differently.


Floral and reproductive traits were compared between the two A. mertensii ant-gardens. The nitrogen flux from the ants to the bromeliads was investigated through experimental enrichments with stable isotopes (15N).

Key Results

Camponotus femoratus-associated bromeliads produced inflorescences up to four times longer than did P. goeldii-associated bromeliads. Also, the numbers of flowers and fruits were close to four times higher, and the number of seeds and their mass per fruit were close to 1·5 times higher in C. femoratus than in P. goeldii-associated bromeliads. Furthermore, the 15N-enrichment experiment showed that C. femoratus-associated bromeliads received more nitrogen from ants than did P. goeldii-associated bromeliads, with subsequent positive repercussions on floral development. Greater benefits were conferred to A. mertensii by the association with C. femoratus compared with P. goeldii ants.


We show for the first time that mutualistic associations with ants can result in an enhanced reproductive allocation for the bromeliad A. mertensii. Nevertheless, the strength and direction of the selection of floral and fruit traits change based on the ant species and were not related to light exposure. The different activities and ecological preferences of the ants may play a contrasting role in shaping plant evolution and speciation.

Keywords: Aechmea mertensii; Camponotus femoratus; bromeliad; Bromeliaceae; δ15N; floral traits; fruit-set; mutualistic ants; Pachycondyla goeldii; reproductive allocation; stable isotopes

Journal Article.  5582 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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