The plants are boring. They just sit in a photo, while the animals have fun. Right? Not that much. See the interactions between ants and plants – the plants evolved properties to accustom them to ants, such as the juicy nectar for insect eaters and the hollow thorns to tear them apart. In exchange, plants use ants to expand their seed and even act as bodyguards. New study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences breaks the genetic history of 1,700 species of ants and 10,000 plant genus, and researchers have discovered that the long history of the anthill and herbal coevolution began with ants for food on plants and plants that later responded by developing antiseptic properties.
"My main interest is in studying how interactions between organisms developed and how these interactions form their evolutionary history. When did ants start to use plants, and when plants began to build structures for ants?" says Matt Nelsen, postdoctoral field researcher and lead author PNAS study.
"There are several different structures that choose plants that are specific to the ants," explains Nelsen, who led the study with his researchers and museums on the ground, Rick Ree and Corrie Moreau. "Some plants have developed qualities that persuade ants to protect them from attacks by other insects and even mammals. It includes hollow thorns that the ants will live in, or extra nectar on the leaves or ants for the ants to eat. Take nectar and run, but some will stick to and attack everything that is trying to hurt the plant, "explains Nelsen. The other plants get ants to help them move their seed around, bribing them with a rich package of foods related to seeds called elaiosom. "The ants will pick up the seed and take it away, eat food packs and throw away seeds – often in areas rich in nutrients where it will develop better, and since it is farther away from parents, they will not have to compete for resources."
But scientists were not sure how the evolutionary relationship between ants and plants began. If the evolution of a weapon race between the species they develop means to profit from its neighbors, then the scientists wanted to know whether the plants or ants fired the first blow. "It was a matter of chicken and eggs, regardless of whether things started with ants who developed behaviors to use plants or plants that are developing to take advantage of the ants," says Ree, a curator of plants in the Field Museum.
The history of ants and plants that develop together returns to the time of dinosaurs and it is not easy to say from fossils that the organisms are interactive. "There are very few fossil records about these structures in plants, and they do not go far back in time. And there are tons of fossil fossils, but they usually do not show these ant behaviors – you do not necessarily have to see the ants preserved in a seeded amber," says Nelsen .
So, in order to determine the early evolutionary history of interactions between the plant, Nelsen and his colleagues turned into large amounts of DNA and ecological databases. "In our study, we linked these behavioral and physical characteristics to the family trees of ants and plants to determine when the ants started to eat and live on plants, and when plants developed the capacity to produce the structures that the ants use," explains Moreau, the curator of the field ants .
The team mapped the history of herbivorous traits and the use of ant plants on these family trees – a process called reconstruction of ancestors of the state. They could determine when plants began to rely on ants for the defense and distribution of seeds – and it seems that the ants rely more on plants than the plants directly relied on the ants, since the plants did not evolve these specialized structures until long after the ants im she relied on food and habitat.
"Some ants do not use the plants directly, while others rely on food, livestock and catering. We found that they have fully invested in plant use, the ants first began to grow arboreal, and then incorporated the plants into their diet, and then from here, they began to crawl. Although this degree of shift to increased reliance on plants is intuitive, it has surprised us, "says Nelsen.
And while there has been an interconnected relationship between ants and plants over the years, from an evolutionary standpoint, groups of ants that eat, grow or nest in plants seem to be nothing better than those that do not work. "We do not see parts of an ant family tree that include ants that rely on food or habitat plants that diversify or grow faster than those parts of the tree that do not have these interactions," says Nelsen. "This study is important because it gives a fair look at how these widespread and complex interactions have developed."
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