Jan
11
2008

Got my back? Acacia trees, ants help each other

Help me you ants: A new study shows that acacia trees in Africa need to have both the ants that protect them from predators and the predators themselves to thrive. Take away one component, and the trees themselves start to look sickly.
Help me you ants: A new study shows that acacia trees in Africa need to have both the ants that protect them from predators and the predators themselves to thrive. Take away one component, and the trees themselves start to look sickly.Courtesy Wikipedia
Mighty acacia trees tower and spread across the African skies. Little ants scramble about as a protective army. Without each other, they’re nothing.

That’s what ten years of research is confirming. Scientists have known for a long time about the symbiotic relationship between the big trees and the little bugs. The trees give the ants a place to live. The ants bite and pester large animals that try to eat the tree’s leaves and limbs.

But what happens when the conditions get reversed?

After ten years of study, we’re starting to get some answers.

With the numbers of large animals in Africa in decline, researchers thought they’d try to find out, on a limited scale, what the impact would be of fewer creatures bothering the acacia tree.

Fences were set up around some trees that prevented large animals from feasting on the trees.

Even after just a few years, the trees were looking rather ragged and their growth rates slowed down. What was going on?

The trees no longer had need to take care of the ants. They didn’t produce as much nectar that the ants feed on and they had fewer, smaller thorns for the ants to live in. Consequently, the ants started to abandon the trees for other locations, giving way to other insects that were damaging the trees.

While the original “mutualism” relationship developed over a long period of time, researchers point out that it can break down in a quick amount of time.

Researchers are going to take this experiment to one more level. They’re going to “reverse” the reverse process on some of the fenced trees, taking the fences down and seeing how quickly, if at all, the ants come back to the trees if the large animals start eating the trees’ greens.

What do you think of all of this? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzz readers.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Andrew's picture
Andrew says:

Interesting--are these the same trees and ants that were featured in David Attenborough's "Life in the Undergrowth"?

posted on Fri, 01/11/2008 - 7:26pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

man these ants are [email protected]$$es

posted on Fri, 09/12/2008 - 11:02am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

bad ants

posted on Fri, 09/12/2008 - 12:52pm
Mai Xee's picture
Mai Xee says:

YAY!
i found the info i needed to for my science project!
IM SO HAPPY!^^
thank you!^^
<3Mai Xee Vang

posted on Sat, 10/18/2008 - 12:09pm
Brooke's picture
Brooke says:

cool, this helped me with my science homework, thanks(:

posted on Wed, 10/22/2008 - 8:27pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

thanks for the info i.o.u.

posted on Wed, 03/04/2009 - 8:51am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Dang, now I can one-up my AP Bio teacher!

posted on Sun, 04/19/2009 - 2:50am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Ha finally found the info I needed for extra credit wow I feel like a nerd. :)

posted on Thu, 10/22/2009 - 1:48pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

WOW~ this helped me with my Symbiotic Relationship Project~ KOol~ Thx

posted on Tue, 11/15/2011 - 8:27pm

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