Hydrated mucilage reduces post-dispersal seed removal of a sand desert shrub by ants in a semiarid ecosystem

Xuejun Yang , Carol C. Baskin , Jerry M. Baskin , Ruiru Gao , Fan Yang , Lingling Wei , Leilei Li , Hongju He , Zhenying Huang

X. Yang , R. Gao , F. Yang , L. Wei , L. Li , Z. Huang
State Key Laboratory of Vegetation and Environmental Change, Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100093, China
X. Yang , H. He
Vegetable Research Center, Beijing Academy of Agricultural and Forestry Sciences, Beijing 100097, China
C. C. Baskin , J. M. Baskin
Department of Biology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506, USA
C. C. Baskin
Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40546, USA
* For correspondence. E-mail zhenying@ibcas.ac.cn

Abstract

Post-dispersal seed removal by animals can lead to extensive seed loss and thus is an important factor in structuring plant communities. However, we know much less about post-dispersal seed predation than about other forms of herbivory. Mucilage plays many ecological roles in adaptation of plants to diverse environments; nevertheless, until now the role of mucilage in ant-mediated seed movement remains largely hypothetical. We studied the role of mucilage in seed removal of Artemisia sphaerocephala by ants in Mu Us Sandland in Inner Mongolia, China. Messor aciculatus was the most active seed predator of Artemisia sphaerocephala. Time to first ant collecting (T 1st) of wet intact seeds was longest and significantly different from that for dry intact seeds, wet demucilaged seeds, and dry demucilaged seeds; number of seeds removed to ant nests was lowest for wet intact seeds. After they were collected by ants, 5 % of wet intact seeds were dropped during transport. Our results indicate that seed mucilage of Artemisia sphaerocephala may play a significant role in post-dispersal seed removal by (1) making seeds less attractive to ants, thus resulting in a delay of collection time; (2) forming a strong bond to soil particles, making it difficult for ants to remove seeds; and (3) making seeds more likely to be dropped during transport, thereby allowing them to escape from predation even after collection by ants. This study demonstrates the importance of mucilage in reducing seed removal by ants and thus in anchoring seeds of desert plants in the vicinity of mother plants.