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Differences in reward removal efficiency and its consequences for seed germination in the ant-dispersed sedge Carex tristachya (Cyperaceae)

Tanaka, Koki, Haramoto, Sumire, Tokuda, Makoto
Plant ecology 2018 v.219 no.11 pp. 1381-1386
Carex, Formica, Pheidole, Tristachya, greenhouses, mutualism, seed dispersal, seed germination, seeds, sowing, sympatry
Reward removal is an essential step for seed dispersal mutualism because residual rewards inhibit germination. Nevertheless, variation in the reward removal efficiency (RRE) among dispersers and its consequences for germination have rarely been reported. In this study, we compared the RREs of two sympatric seed-dispersing ants, Formica japonica and Pheidole noda, using seeds of the ant-dispersed sedge Carex tristachya. Then, we conducted seed sowing experiments in a non-heated glasshouse to evaluate the effect of RRE on the percentage and speed of germination. The majority (85%) of seeds handled by F. japonica had residual elaiosomes, while elaiosomes were completely removed from all seeds handled by P. noda, demonstrating that P. noda has much higher RRE than F. japonica. The seed sowing experiments revealed that RRE, defined by the presence or absence of residual elaiosomes, was not associated with the percentage germination within a year. However, high RRE seeds with no residual elaiosomes germinated significantly faster than low RRE seeds with residual elaiosomes. Similarly, artificial removal of elaiosomes from C. tristachya seeds accelerated germination speed without affecting germination percentage. These results suggest that RRE is one of the most important parameters determining the effectiveness of a seed dispersal agent.