Plants and insects develop mutually beneficial relationships. These mutualistic relationships are important for the maintenance of biological diversity. However, mutualistic relationships are increasingly threatened by expanding human activities including farming, species invasion and forest overharvest.
What are plant ants?
Ants are small insect-like creatures that live in colonies. They are an important part of many ecosystems. Although some ants live in larger groups, such as the ants of the genus Lasius, most ants live in small colonies and group together to perform tasks. What can we learn from plant ants? Plant ants have many specialized roles. They are the primary pollinators of over 600 plant species and play a central role in helping plants to defend themselves against herbivores. They also perform essential pollination services for flowering plants and help shape the plant structure.
Why is it important to care for your plants?
Plants are responsible for our air, water and nutrition. They are also linked to human health as a natural source of medicine, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Insects and arthropods help decompose organic matter in soil, increase nitrogen availability in soils, and serve as a source of protein for bees, birds and other insects. In some cases, insects provide pest control for plants through competition or parasitism. Insects can also damage plant foliage by sucking sap and detaching leaves, and they can also chew on roots of plants. While these relationships can be harmful for plant health, insects often serve as natural enemies of pests. How do plants and insects have a mutually beneficial relationship? Carnivorous plants (like Nepenthes) evolved to reduce plant insect populations.
How do you take care of your plants?
What plants are host to ants? Many plants have protective structures that help keep them safe from external forces. This protection comes in many forms such as stomata, indumentum, hairs and specialized leaves. For example, some plants produce specialized types of leaves that are very sticky and prevent insect larvae from feeding on them, hence reducing the likelihood of insect predation. Other plants, such as sorrel, benefit from the ants’ presence because the ants guard them against herbivores. How are plants immune to ant attacks? Plants possess a very complex immune system.
IRES grant addresses a critical issue in Benin that threatens biodiversity, people and society, by encouraging research collaboration between US and Beninese scientists to deepen their understanding of the ecological and human processes that sustain plant-insect interactions. As a result, students gain a nuanced understanding of the conservation and management of these highly complex systems and may potentially be able to develop scientific tools for sustainable use.