A New Protocol Using Artificial Seeds to Evaluate Dietary Preferences of Harvester Ants in Semi-arid Environments
Keywords:experimental methods, granivorous ants, myrmecochory, Pogonomyrmex, seed predation.
AbstractThe preferences of seed intake by harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex spp.) have been debated for a long time, mainly due the lack of repeatable methods to draw clear conclusions. However, several characteristics of the food resource are well recognized as the drivers of such selective predation. For instance, resource quality (i.e., availability of carbohydrates, lipids, and proteins) is one factor that could explain the observed foraging patterns of Pogonomyrmex species. In this sense, experimental approaches using artificial resources (e.g., synthetic seeds/diaspores) have provided an useful and alternative tool to study ant’s food foraging behavior. Therefore, it is expected that the use of artificial seeds also could offer a versatile way to assess the influence of resource quality exert on the resource selection by harvester ants. On the other hand, empirical experiments involving harvester ants and artificial seeds are still rare in the literature and it is not known if such methodology is efficient with different Pogonomyrmex species. In this study carried out in a Neotropical arid environment of central Mexico, we tested a simple but fundamental question: Do harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex barbatus) predate artificial seeds with manipulated nutrient content (lipids and proteins) in the field? We found that the proportion of native seeds removed was lower than the proportion of artificial seeds removed. However, we found no difference between the removal of artificial seeds containing only lipids and the seeds containing lipids + proteins. These findings indicate that the artificial seeds synthesized by us could be an effective method to test different ecological hypothesis involving harvester ants. Moreover, our empirical experiment offers a benchmark to study the influence of resource quality on the food foraging behavior of harvester ants in Neotropical arid environments.
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