Ant-seed mutualisms: Can red imported fire ants sour the relationship?

Jennifer A. Zettler, Timothy P. Spira, Craig R. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Invasion by the red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta, has had negative impacts on individual animal and plant species, but little is known about how S. invicta affects complex mutualistic relationships. In some eastern forests of North America, 30% of herbaceous species have ant-dispersed seeds. We conducted experiments to determine if fire ants are attracted to seeds of these plant species and assessed the amount of scarification or damage that results from handling by fire ants. Fire ants removed nearly 100% of seeds of the ant-dispersed plants Trillium undulatum, T. discolor, T. catesbaei, Viola rotundifolia, and Sanguinaria canadensis. In recovered seeds fed to ant colonies, fire ants scarified 80% of S. canadensis seeds and destroyed 86% of V. rotundifolia seeds. Our study is the first to document that red imported fire ants are attracted to and remove seeds of species adapted for ant dispersal. Moreover, fire ants might damage these seeds and discard them in sites unfavorable for germination and seedling establishment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-253
Number of pages5
JournalBiological Conservation
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Ant-plant mutualism
  • Invasive species
  • Myrmecochory
  • Red imported fire ant
  • Seed dispersal
  • Solenopsis invicta

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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