Hydrated mucilage reduces post-dispersal seed removal of a sand desert shrub by ants in a semiarid ecosystem

Xuejun Yang, Carol C. Baskin, Jerry M. Baskin, Ruiru Gao, Fan Yang, Lingling Wei, Leilei Li, Hongju He, Zhenying Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Post-dispersal seed removal by animals can lead to extensive seed loss and thus is an important factor in structuring plant communities. However, we know much less about post-dispersal seed predation than about other forms of herbivory. Mucilage plays many ecological roles in adaptation of plants to diverse environments; nevertheless, until now the role of mucilage in ant-mediated seed movement remains largely hypothetical. We studied the role of mucilage in seed removal of Artemisia sphaerocephala by ants in Mu Us Sandland in Inner Mongolia, China. Messor aciculatus was the most active seed predator of Artemisia sphaerocephala. Time to first ant collecting (T 1st) of wet intact seeds was longest and significantly different from that for dry intact seeds, wet demucilaged seeds, and dry demucilaged seeds; number of seeds removed to ant nests was lowest for wet intact seeds. After they were collected by ants, 5 % of wet intact seeds were dropped during transport. Our results indicate that seed mucilage of Artemisia sphaerocephala may play a significant role in post-dispersal seed removal by (1) making seeds less attractive to ants, thus resulting in a delay of collection time; (2) forming a strong bond to soil particles, making it difficult for ants to remove seeds; and (3) making seeds more likely to be dropped during transport, thereby allowing them to escape from predation even after collection by ants. This study demonstrates the importance of mucilage in reducing seed removal by ants and thus in anchoring seeds of desert plants in the vicinity of mother plants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1451-1458
Number of pages8
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2013

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We are grateful to Prof. Carlos L. Ballaré, Prof. Caroline Müller, and two anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on the manuscript. Funds for this study were provided by the Key Basic Research and Development Plan of China (2010CB951304), the National Natural Science Foundation of P.R. China (31170383), and the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2012M520456, 2013T60194).


  • Ant
  • Artemisia sphaerocephala
  • Desert plant
  • Plant regeneration
  • Post-dispersal seed predation
  • Seed dispersal
  • Seed mucilage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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