Nectar theft and floral ant-repellence: A link between nectar volume and ant-repellent traits?

Gavin Andrew Ballantyne, Patricia Gillian Willmer

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As flower visitors, ants rarely benefit a plant. They are poor pollinators, and can also disrupt pollination by deterring other flower visitors, or by stealing nectar. Some plant species therefore possess floral ant-repelling traits. But why do particular species have such traits when others do not? In a dry forest in Costa Rica, of 49 plant species around a third were ant-repellent at very close proximity to a common generalist ant species, usually via repellent pollen. Repellence was positively correlated with the presence of large nectar volumes. Repellent traits affected ant species differently, some influencing the behaviour of just a few species and others producing more generalised ant-repellence. Our results suggest that ant-repellent floral traits may often not be pleiotropic, but instead could have been selected for as a defence against ant thieves in plant species that invest in large volumes of nectar. This conclusion highlights to the importance of research into the cost of nectar production in future studies into ant-flower interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere43869
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2012


  • ant-plant interactions, ant-repellence, floral larceny, nectar, pollination


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