Ecology

‘Devil's gardens’ bedevilled by ants

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An ant species uses herbicidal weaponry to secure its own niche in the Amazonian rainforest.

Abstract

‘Devil's gardens’ are large stands of trees in the Amazonian rainforest that consist almost entirely of a single species, Duroia hirsuta1,2,3,4,5, and, according to local legend, are cultivated by an evil forest spirit. Here we show that the ant Myrmelachista schumanni, which nests in D. hirsuta stems, creates devil's gardens by poisoning all plants except its host plants with formic acid. By killing these other plants, M. schumanni provides its colonies with abundant nest sites — a long-lasting benefit as colonies can live for 800 years.

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Figure 1: The ant M. schumanni creates devil's gardens by killing all plants other than its host tree, D. hirsuta.

M. DOHRN © BBC

Figure 2: M. schumanni ants, and not allelopathy, create devil's gardens.

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Author information

Correspondence to Megan E. Frederickson.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Methods

This file contains detailed methods for the experiments and analyses described in the article. (DOC 28 kb)

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Frederickson, M., Greene, M. & Gordon, D. ‘Devil's gardens’ bedevilled by ants. Nature 437, 495–496 (2005) doi:10.1038/437495a

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