The influence of light, substrate and seed origin on the germination and establishment of an ant-garden bromeliad

Abstract : Plant germination and development depend upon a seed's successful dispersal into a suitable habitat and its ability to grow and survive within the surrounding biotic and abiotic environment. The seeds of Aechmea mertensii, a tank-bromeliad species, are dispersed by either Camponotus femoratus or Neoponera goeldii, two ant species that initiate ant gardens (AGs). These two mutualistic ant species influence the vegetative and reproductive traits of the bromeliad through their divergent ecological preferences (i.e. light and substrate). We hypothesised that the seeds dispersed by these two ant species have underlying genetic differences affecting germination, growth and survival of A.mertensii seedlings in different ways. To test this, we used an experimental approach consisting of sowing seeds of A.mertensii: (i) taken from the two AG-ant associations (i.e. seed origin), (ii) in two contrasting light conditions, and (iii) on three different substrates. Light and substrate had significant effects on germination, survival and on eight key leaf traits reflecting plant performance. Seed origin had a significant effect only on germination and on two leaf traits (total dry mass and relative growth rate). Overall, this bromeliad performs better (i.e. high growth and survival rates) when growing both in the shade and in the carton nest developed by C.femoratus ants. These results suggest that the plasticity of the tank bromeliad A.mertensii is mainly due to environment but also to genetic differences related to seed origin, as some traits are heritable. Thus, these two ant species may play contrasting roles in shaping plant evolution and speciation.
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Céline Leroy, Frédéric Petitclerc, Jérôme Orivel, B. Corbara, J.-F. Carrias, et al.. The influence of light, substrate and seed origin on the germination and establishment of an ant-garden bromeliad. Plant Biology, Wiley, 2017, 19 (1), pp.70-78. ⟨10.1111/plb.12452⟩. ⟨hal-01606565⟩



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