Symbiotic ants as an alternative defense against giraffe herbivory in spinescent Acacia drepanolobium

We explore here the occurrence of aggressive ants in an apparently symbiotic relationship with the savanna tree Acacia drepanolobium and their effects on giraffe herbivory on the Athi-Kapiti Plains, Kenya. Trees taller than 1.3 m were more likely to be occupied by aggressive ants in the genus Crematogaster than were shorter trees. Ants were concentrated on shoot tips, the plant parts preferred by giraffes. Trees with relatively more foliage had more swarming ants than did trees with less foliage. The feeding behavior of individual free ranging giraffes on Acacia drepanolobium was studied. Giraffe calves exhibited a strong sensitivity to Crematogaster ants inhabiting A. drepanolobium, feeding for significantly shorter periods on trees with a greater number of aggressive ants. Older giraffes were apparently less sensitive to ants, and did not feed for shorter periods on trees with fuller foliage, despite significantly greater ant activity on these plants. The thorns of A. drepanolobium are significantly shorter than are the thorns of A. seyal, a species without symbiotic ants, a pattern that may indicate a trade-off between ants and thorns as defenses.

Publish DateJanuary 2, 2019
Last UpdatedJanuary 27, 2021
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