Ant as Pollinator
06, Oct 2018
Prelims level : Environment – Bio Diversity Mains level :
- Researchers from Kerala’s Central University have found that common white-footed ants are the best pollinators of a rare evergreen tree in the southern Western Ghats.
- To find out which animals birds, bats, wasps or bees are most important pollinators for Syzygium occidentale , researchers from institutes including Kerala’s Central University studied the flowering patterns and timings of around 50 trees that grow along the River Periyar.
- Visiting the trees daily for three separate flowering seasons between 2010 and 2015, the team quantified the timing of flowering, the volume of nectar available in flowers, the animals that visit the flowers and the frequency of their visits.
- They found that 10 species including sunbirds and cockroaches visited the large, pleasant-smelling white flowers that bloomed between December and April. Among these, seven species (including bees and two ant species) frequented the flowers the most.
- The team then conducted experiments to determine which species was the most effective pollinator.
- After such experiment, the researchers dissected the fruit to confirm the presence of healthy, embryo-carrying seeds- proof that a particular animal group had successfully pollinated the flower.
- The ants especially white-footed ants, the most frequent visitors to the flowers day and night were the most efficient pollinators of the tree.
- Ants are usually depicted as poor pollinators. Because unlike the white-footed ants, many flower-visiting ant species (such as the weaver ants in this study) attack other pollinators and thus prevent them from pollinating the plant.
- Syzygium occidentale is a small, wild jamun tree that grows mostly along the banks of the River Periyar in Kerala.
- It is categorised as ‘vulnerable’ by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The survival of such a species is crucial, depending on the fruits it produces, which is only possible if pollinators fertilize its flowers first.