'A plant needs ants like a dog needs fleas:' Myrmelachista schumanni ants gall many tree species to create housing

David P. Edwards, Megan E. Frederickson, Glenn H. Shepard, Douglas W. Yu

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Hundreds of tropical plant species house ant colonies in specialized chambers called domatia. When, in 1873, Richard Spruce likened plant‐ants to fleas and asserted that domatia are ant‐created galls, he incited a debate that lasted almost a century. Although we now know that domatia are not galls and that most ant‐plant interactions are mutualisms and not parasitisms, we revisit Spruce’s suggestion that ants can gall in light of our observations of the plant‐ant Myrmelachista schumanni, which creates clearings in the Amazonian rain forest called “supay‐chakras,” or “devil’s gardens.” We observed swollen scars on the trunks of nonmyrmecophytic canopy trees surrounding supay‐chakras, and within these swellings, we found networks of cavities inhabited by M. schumanni. Here, we summarize the evidence supporting the hypothesis that M. schumanni ants make these galls, and we hypothesize that the adaptive benefit of galling is to increase the amount of nesting space available to M. schumanni colonies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)734-740
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Naturalist
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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