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Cecropia obtusa

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Food Bodies.

Food bodies are ant-sized organs containing a variety of foods primarily evolved for the manipulation of ants but some cheats have also learned their benefits, even Bagheera kiplingi a jumping spider that consequently has become primarily a vegetarian (Jackson 2009.)  Food bodies are classified according to their main nutrient contents and the plant genera that provide them.

  Beltian bodies are found on the leaflet tips of Acacia (sic) plants and have relatively high protein content. The Acacia genus as then circumscribed was not monophyletic; hence, it has now been split into five genera, four of which are new. Acacia is retained (a nomen conservandum) for the largest group of approximately 960 Australian species. The various New World, Bullhorn Acacia are now placed in Vachellia, Seigler & Ebingerand in Phytologia 87(3) 153, 2005[2006].

 Beccarian bodies are found on the young leaves of Macaranga trees and they are especially rich in lipids. Macaranga is a genus of over 300 species native to Africa, Australasia, Asia and the South Pacific. The word lipid is popularly associated with fats and waxes but these are only sub groups of what is a complex range of chemical structures mostly concerned with storing metabolic energy.

 Müllerian bodies are found on the base of leaf stalks of wide-spread New World Cecropia trees. They primarily contain glycogen, which is the principal carbohydrate found in animals but it is extremely rare in plants.

 Pearl bodies named for their likeness to minute pearls, are found on the leaves and stems of juvenile Balsa trees Ochroma pyramidale and are mostly comprised of energy rich glycogen. Balsa trees also have extra flora nectaries on their leaves.  Evidence supports the view that these foods help to maintain populations of plant-protective ants. (O’Dowd 1980.)

Ants the Great Providers.

The symbiotic mutualism between Neotropical Cecropia ant-house trees and a fierce Azteca ant species has been researched for over 100 years. Azteca colonies nesting in hollow Cecropia branches eat müllerian bodies produced by host trees. A study using stable isotopes incorporated into ant foods, found that only about 18% of a colony’s carbon uptake was derived from host trees, yet, 93% of nitrogen in occupied trees came from decomposing organics left by ant colonies within domatia. (Sagers et al. 2000). Ants gather foods from far beyond the reach of their host plants and they certainly provide more nutrients to home plants than those received in return.

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  • 5 months later...

Dear Michael,


I just see your beautiful photos of Cecropia obtusa. I am a PhD student working on ant plant symbioses (actually focusing on the Hydnophytinae) but I am submitting a paper this week on the evolution of myrmecophytes. I was wondering whether I could use the first of your Cecropia photo for a color plate (with reference to your name of course?).


Best wishes



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