Common caricatures of Darwinian evolution evoke nature as a brutal force, one of ruthless competition in which the strongest prevail. In truth evolutionary processes can be much more nuanced. Under a wide array of conditions, species find Darwinian advantage in cooperative relationships.
Some of the most striking cases of evolutionary partnerships involve the planet’s dominant primary producers, the plants, and the most abundant insects, the ants. Ants are exceptional predators, and several groups of plants have figured out that by housing and feeding resident ant colonies they gain a potent defensive shield against their herbivores and other plant competitors. Ant-Plant associations are apparently beneficial enough for both parties that highly-specialized obligatory relationships have evolved many times.
Why do I bring this up? Because I’ve just posted a new Ants and Plants gallery:
At the moment the gallery contains images of just three such systems: the Neotropical Acacia–Pseudomyrmex and Cecropia-Azteca systems and the Australian Myrmecodia-Philidris partnership. These are just a few of the ant-plant systems that exist, though, there are more equally photogenic ones that I’ve not yet had the luck to photograph.