García, M. B.2; Espadaler, Xavier2; Olesen, Jens Mogens3
1 Department of Bioscience - Genetics, Ecology and Evolution, Department of Bioscience, Science and Technology, Aarhus University2 unknown3 Department of Bioscience - Genetics, Ecology and Evolution, Department of Bioscience, Science and Technology, Aarhus University
Cliff sides are extreme habitats, often sheltering a rich and unique flora. One example is the dioecious herb Borderea chouardii (Dioscoreaceae), which is a Tertiary, tropical relict, occurring only on two adjacent vertical cliffs in the world. We studied its reproductive biology, which in some aspects is extreme, especially the unusual double mutualistic role of ants as both pollinators and dispersers. We made a 2-year pollination census and four years of seed-dispersal experiments, recording flower visitors and dispersal rates. Fruit and seed set, self-sowing of seeds, seedling recruitment, and fate of seedlings from seeds sowed by different agents were scored over a period of 17 years. The ants Lasius grandis and L. cinereus were the main pollinators, whereas another ant Pheidole pallidula dispersed seeds. Thus ants functioned as double mutualists. Two thirds of all new seedlings came from self-sown seeds, and 1/3 was dispersed by ants, which gathered the seeds with their oil-rich elaiosome. Gravity played a minor role to dispersal. Both ant dispersal and self-sowing resulted in the same survival rate of seedlings. A double mutualism is a risky reproductive strategy, but B. chouardii buffers that by an unusual long–term demographic stability (some individuals exceed 300 years in lifespan) and its presence in a climatically very stable habitat, inaccessible to large herbivores. Such a combination of traits and habitat properties may explain the persistence of this relict species.