I'm fascinated by the amazing interactions found in nature, and terrified that this delicate balance can be so completely undone by humans, either intentionally or unintentionally.
Date: 1/17/2008 2:11:56 PM ( 14 y ) ... viewed 1707 times
Giraffes and Acacia Tree Photo from: "Invisibility: An African/Nigerian Tale"
Bond between trees, ants is broken without animals
The acacias provide food and home to the insects which protect the leaves. But if there is no threat, the deal is off and both suffer.
From the Associated Press
January 12, 2008
For thousands of years, thorny African acacia trees have provided food and shelter to aggressive biting ants, which protected the trees by attacking animals that try to eat the acacia leaves.
Called mutualism, it's a good deal for the trees and the ants.
Scientists studying the decline in large animals in Africa wondered what would happen if the animals no longer were eating the leaves. So they fenced off some of the acacias from elephants, giraffes and other animals.
After a few years, the fenced-in trees began looking sickly and grew slower than their unfenced relatives.
It turns out that without animals eating their leaves, the trees reduced nectar production and made fewer swollen thorns that the ants could live in. The result: The protective ants began damaging the trees or were replaced by other insects that ate holes in the bark.
"Although this mutualism between ants and plants has likely evolved over a very long time scales, it falls apart very, very rapidly," said Todd M. Palmer, a University of Florida zoologist who reported the findings Friday in the journal Science.
"Over the course of only 10 years, we found that when mammals could not eat plants, the plants began to have less use for the ants, and therefore began to reduce their 'payments' to the ants, in the form of nectar," Palmer said.
"If you had asked me 10 years ago 'What would happen if you took large mammals out of the system?' I would have answered: 'I'll bet the trees would be really happy!' " he said.
But, because the browsing animals are the driving force behind the tree paying out benefits to the ants, when the payments diminish, the ants that protect the tree begin to starve, and their colonies become smaller.
Looking for a photo to go with this article, I stumbled upon this wonderful website:
SPIRIT OF TREES "...a varied collection of multicultural folktales and myths...When told with feeling, these have the power to foster a heart felt connection to trees, one that taps deep into the human imagination to inspire hope, wonder and compassion for the living earth. "
Spirit of Trees : http://www.spiritoftrees.org/folktales/folktales.html
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