Imagine walking in the impossibly dense and diverse forest of Peruvian Amazon and chancing upon an eerie, unusual sight of an odd patch of clearing where only 1 plant species lives, the Duroia hirsuta tree. It is what the locals call the Devil’s Garden, where the trees are cared for by the devil itself.
However, recent research has suggests a much unlikely culprit – Myrmelachista schumanni ants. Previous studies have fasely identified that devil’s gardens result from allelopathy, which is the local inhibition of plant growth by another plant, in this case D. hirsuta. Myrmelachista schumanni, commonly known as lemon ants due to their taste, injects Formic acid to poison all other plant species except its host plant.
Although formic acid is common amongst ants as a defense against insect or animal attacks, it is the first time it has been known to be use as herbicides. Researches call this niche construction, as lemon ants resides in the hollow stems of the host plant, they gain more nests by ensuring the growth of such trees by eliminating competition.
Animals seemingly never cease to amaze, the manipulation of the environment by the lemon ants is comparable to Man’s ability itself. One of the Devil’s Garden is estimated to be around 800 years old, these relatively small lemon ants’ ability is certainly astounding!
Megan E. Frederickson, Michael J. Greene & Deborah M. Gordon, 2005. ‘Devil’s garden bedevilled by ants’. Nature, 437:495-496.
David P.Edwards, Megan E. Frederickson, Glenn H. Shepard and Douglas W. Yu, 2009. “A Plant Needs Ants like a Dog Needs Fleas: Myrmelachista schumanni Ants Gall Many Trees to Create Housing”. The American Naturalist, 174(5):734-740.
“Devil’s garden” by sonefe67, 04 March 2008. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0M8QSCjcdM (accessed on 1 April 2010)