Breakdown of an ant-plant mutualism follows the loss of large herbivores from an African Savanna

Todd M. Palmer, Maureen L. Stanton, Truman P. Young, Jacob R. Goheen, Robert M. Pringle, Richard Karban

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

234 Scopus citations


Mutualisms are key components of biodiversity and ecosystem function, yet the forces maintaining them are poorly understood. We investigated the effects of removing large mammals on an ant-Acacia mutualism in an African savanna. Ten years of large-herbivore exclusion reduced the nectar and housing provided by plants to ants, increasing antagonistic behavior by a mutualistic ant associate and shifting competitive dominance within the plant-ant community from this nectar-dependent mutualist to an antagonistic species that does not depend on plant rewards. Trees occupied by this antagonist suffered increased attack by stem-boring beetles, grew more slowly, and experienced doubled mortality relative to trees occupied by the mutualistic ant. These results show that large mammals maintain cooperation within a widespread symbiosis and suggest complex cascading effects of megafaunal extinction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)192-195
Number of pages4
Issue number5860
StatePublished - Jan 11 2008
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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