Ants known to defend certain species of Acacia trees from elephant predation deter the massive herbivores so effectively that they are impacting entire savanna ecosystems, according to a study published online today (2nd September) in Current Biology.
Ants on a whistling-thorn tree
Image: Todd Palmer
"I don't think any one had suspected how strong an effect the ants [had] in terms of driving elephants to avoid the Acacia," said ecologist David Augustine of the linkurl:US Department of Agriculture,; who was not involved in the study. "It's a very nice demonstration of [how] this small-scale mechanism can explain a large-scale and pretty important pattern in the savannas in this region." Savannas are made up of a mixture of trees and grass, and the amount of tree cover in a given area is largely variable, depending on such factors as rain, fire and herbivory. Elephants can kill large expanses of...
Acacia drepanolobium
Image: Jacob Goheen
Image: Rob Pringle
Current Biology2J.R. Goheen and T.M. Palmer, "Defensive plant-ants stabilize megaherbivore-driven landscape change in an African savanna," Current Biology, 20, 1-5, 2010.

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