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Science. 2005 Apr 22;308(5721):560-3.

Postsecretory hydrolysis of nectar sucrose and specialization in ant/plant mutualism.

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Department of Bioorganic Chemistry, Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Ecology, Hans-Knöll-Strasse 8, D-07745 Jena, Germany.


Obligate Acacia ant plants house mutualistic ants as a defense mechanism and provide them with extrafloral nectar (EFN). Ant/plant mutualisms are widespread, but little is known about the biochemical basis of their species specificity. Despite its importance in these and other plant/animal interactions, little attention has been paid to the control of the chemical composition of nectar. We found high invertase (sucrose-cleaving) activity in Acacia EFN, which thus contained no sucrose. Sucrose, a disaccharide common in other EFNs, usually attracts nonsymbiotic ants. The EFN of the ant acacias was therefore unattractive to such ants. The Pseudomyrmex ants that are specialized to live on Acacia had almost no invertase activity in their digestive tracts and preferred sucrose-free EFN. Our results demonstrate postsecretory regulation of the carbohydrate composition of nectar.

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