Many plants rely on bees to pollinate for reproduction, a process that is essential to maintaining the earth’s ecology. A new study has found that an Australian smoky wood plant allows ants to pollinate instead of bees. Nicola Delnevo, a ph.D. student at the University of Edith Cowen in Australia who led the study, said it was rare for plants in nature to be pollinated by ants because the liquid secreted by the ants’ bodies contained antibiotics that destroy pollen particles and lead to pollination failures.
“This antibiotic basically acts as a preservative, and ants apply it to underground nests to prevent mold and to fight infection. This antibiotic not only kills bacteria and fungi, but also is toxic to pollen particles. Delnevo said.
Pollen particles from this color-smoking plant have evolved the ability to resist ant antibiotics, allowing them to pollinate, new research has found. It is also the first time that a plant with this ability has been found in the world.
“Ant pollination has 46 examples recorded worldwide, but these are all because local ants secrete less toxic antibiotics, allowing pollination to be completed. Delnevo said.
Delnevo told reporters that the plant not only evolved its ability to pollinate ants, but that the shape of the flowers has also become more suitable for a local-specific bee pollination over millions of years. The unique ability to pollinate bees and ants at the same time increases the plant’s chances of survival. They will also continue to study the prevalence of this pollination mechanism in other local plants.
The findings have been published in the bimonthly issue of the British Journal of Botany.