Seed dispersal by ants (myrmecochory) can be influenced by changes to ant assemblages resulting from habitat disturbance as well as by differences in disperser behaviour. We investigated the effect of habitat disturbance by fire on the dispersal of seeds of a myrmecochorous shrub, Pultenaea daphnoides. We also investigated the consequence of the seed relocation behaviours of two common dispersers (Pheidole sp. A and Rhytidoponera metallica) for the redispersal of seeds. Pheidole sp. A colonies did not relocate seeds outside their nests. In contrast, R. metallica colonies relocated 43.6 % of seeds fed to them, of which 96.9 % had residual elaiosome that remained attached. On average, R. metallica relocated seeds 78.9 and 60.7 cm from the nest entrances in burned and unburned habitat, respectively. Seeds were removed faster in burned than in unburned habitat, and seeds previously relocated by R. metallica were removed at similar rates to seeds with intact elaiosomes, but faster than seeds with detached elaiosomes. Dispersal distances were not significantly different between burned (51.3 cm) and unburned (70.9 cm) habitat or between seeds with different elaiosome conditions. Differences between habitat types in the frequency of seed removal, the shape of the seed dispersal curve, and the relative contribution of R. metallica and Pheidole sp. A to seed dispersal were largely due to the effect of recent fire on the abundance of Pheidole sp. A. Across habitat types, the number of seeds removed from depots and during dispersal trials most strongly related to the combined abundances of R. metallica and Pheidole. Our findings show that myrmecochory can involve more than one dispersal phase and that fire indirectly influences myrmecochory by altering the abundances of seed-dispersing ants.
- Dispersal distance
- Prescribed burn