Ants are considered beneficial insects for their roles as predators, scavengers, and dispersers of plant seeds. But when the seeds belong to a pest plant, the ants’ role may change to that of accomplice in an unwanted biological invasion.
Moni Berg-Binder, a student in the Suarez lab at the University of Illinois, is studying the interaction between native Formica ants and an invasive euphorb, leafy spurge. Leafy spurge seeds have an edible elaiosome that ants find attractive enough to carry back to their nests, so the ants may be assisting the plant as it spreads across the great plains of the central United States. Moni was kind enough to arrange the ants and the seeds for this photo shoot.