Population consequences of changes in an ant-seed mutualism in Sanguinaria canadensis

Ronald J. Pudlo, Andrew J. Beattie*, David C. Culver

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

90 Citations (Scopus)


Seed dispersal by ants was studied in three populations of the myrmecochore, Sanguinaria canadensis, located in three habitats, each of which showed a different level of disturbance. Frequency of seed removal and the distances seeds were carried by ants were related to plant density, dispersion and the relative proportions of sexual and asexual reproduction in each population. Seeds in the least disturbed habitat were removed frequently and carried, by a wide variety of ants, distances of up to 12 m. Plant density was low and clone size was small. There was a relatively low level of sexual (seed) reproduction but seeds were generally transported well beyond the boundaries of the parent clones. By contrast, at the most disturbed site, plant density was high and clone size was very large. While there was a high level of seed production, seeds were rarely moved by ants and since removal distances were short, the probability of a seed being relocated beyond the limits of the parent clone was miniscule. The third population from a habitat which was intermediate in disturbance yielded data intermediate to the others. The data show that habitat disturbance, in disrupting the ant fauna and hence the ant-seed mutualism, has profound effects upon population density, dispersion and patterns of reproduction. Density-dependent regulation of sexual output predicted, for example, by the Strawberry-Coral model (Williams 1975), is maladaptive when the antseed mutualism is disturbed. We discuss the implications of this for theoretical modeling, the significance of mutualisms and the assessment of disturbance for conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)32-37
Number of pages6
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 1980
Externally publishedYes


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