Devil’s gardens found in French Guiana

Previously thought to exist only in the western Amazon, Devil’s gardens have been discovered on the other side of the continent.

Data resources used via GBIF : 3,601 species occurrences
The largest of the devil's gardens found in French Guiana

The largest of the devil's gardens found in French Guiana. Photo used with permission from Alex Salas-Lopez.

Devil’s gardens are a phenomenon of the Amazon, in which highly specialized ant species adapted to living within cavities of equally specialized plants, so-called myrmecophytes, attack and completely clear the surrounding area of non-host plants. The typical culprit, Myrmelachista schumanni, poisons all other plants to promote growth and reproduction of its host, typically Duroia hirsuta. This paper describes the discovery of Devil’s gardens in French Guianan cloud forests, more than 2000 km away from previously known distributions of this rare mutualism. To investigate the factors contributing to the geographic isolation of the association, researchers used GBIF-mediated occurrences of myrmecophytes and compared these with known locations of devil’s gardens, finding no evidence of host plant limitation. The authors instead suggest that the isolated phenomenon are relicts from past wider distributions, although this hypothesis needs further validation, e.g. findings in other countries with montane forests.

Citations

Salas-Lopez A, Talaga S and Lalagüe H (2016) The discovery of devil’s gardens: an ant–plant mutualism in the cloud forests of the Eastern Amazon. Journal of Tropical Ecology. Cambridge University Press (CUP) 32(03): 264–268. Available at doi:10.1017/S0266467416000195.

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