Ants are the primary dispersers of understory plants in eastern deciduous forests, playing essential roles in structuring plant communities. In fact, 40% of forbs in these forests are ant-dispersed, including well-known species such as trilliums, wild ginger, and violets. Seeds of ant-dispersed plants (myrmecochores) are attractive to ants; providing ants with lipid-rich food rewards (elaiosomes) that ants remove before depositing or planting seeds in the forest floor. Myrmecochory has traditionally been described as a generalized and diffuse mutualism; however, several studies, including our work, show that myrmecochory is not as generalized as once thought. Rather traits of both seed-dispersing ants and ant-dispersed plants influence the outcome of seed dispersal on plant communities. We are examining several questions in this system. How do traits of seed-dispersing ants and ant-dispersed plants influence the outcome of myrmecochory? What is the effect of inserting invasive ants and plants into native communities? Do mutualist invasive partners drive each others invasion success "invasional meltdown"? How do multiple forms of environmental change, including habitat fragmentation, invasion, and elevated herbivory influence myrmecochory?
We collaborate with Megan Frederickson at the University of Toronto on this research.
We conduct this work at the Nature Preserve at Binghamton University and at Koffler Scientific Reserve at the University of Toronto.
2016: Meadley Dunphy SA, Prior KM, Frederickson ME. An invasive slug exploits an ant-seed dispersal mutualism. Oecologia: 181:149-159.
2015: Prior KM, Robinson JM, Meadley Dunphy SA, Frederickson ME. Mutualism between co-introduced species facilitates invasion and alters plant community structure. Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 282:20142846.
2014: Prior KM, Saxena K, Frederickson ME. Seed handling behaviors of native and invasive seed-dispersing ants differentially influence seedling emergence in an introduced plant. Ecological Entomology 39:66-74.