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Naturwissenschaften. 2008 Jan;95(1):61-5. Epub 2007 Jul 27.

A novel mutualism between an ant-plant and its resident pollinator.

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Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, 560012, Bangalore, India.


Pollination systems in which the host plant provides breeding sites for pollinators, invariably within flowers, are usually highly specialized mutualisms. We found that the pollinating bee Braunsapis puangensis breeds within the caulinary domatia of the semi-myrmecophyte Humboldtia brunonis (Fabaceae), an unusual ant-plant that is polymorphic for the presence of domatia and harbours a diverse invertebrate fauna including protective and non-protective ants in its domatia. B. puangensis is the most common flower visitor that carries the highest proportion of H. brunonis pollen. This myrmecophyte is pollen limited and cross-pollinated by bees in the daytime. Hence, the symbiotic pollinator could provide a benefit to trees bearing domatia by alleviating this limitation. We therefore report for the first time an unspecialised mutualism in which a pollinator is housed in a plant structure other than flowers. Here, the cost to the plant is lower than for conventional brood-site pollination mutualisms where the pollinator develops at the expense of plant reproductive structures. Myrmecophytes housing resident pollinators are unusual, as ants are known to be enemies of pollinators, and housing them together may decrease the benefits that these residents could individually provide to the host plant.

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