The collection and dispersal of plant seeds by ants. A variety of plant species possess hard seeds that are inedible to ants but are nevertheless gathered by them and taken to the ants' nest. The ants perform this service because the seeds are equipped with special food bodies (elaiosomes). These are variously shaped appendages derived from ovarian tissue and containing proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates. In the nest the ants detach the elaiosomes and feed them to their larvae, discarding the seeds either within or near the nest. The ant benefits by receiving food, while the seed dispersal may benefit the plant in several ways: for example, protection of the seeds inside the ants' nest; reduction of competition from its own seedlings; or removal of the seeds to a suitable germination site.
Subjects: Biological Sciences.