Mutualisms to scale: how ant-plant mutualisms increase diversity and impact the carbon cycle
Seminar with Dr. Beth Pringle
Mutually beneficial interactions between species (i.e., mutualisms) are well known drivers of (co)evolution and of changes in the structure of ecological interaction networks, but the effects of mutualisms at larger scales—on the broader communities and ecosystems in which they are embedded—are less understood. In this talk I will explore how mutualisms increase community diversity by increasing biotic heterogeneity and the role that mutualisms play in the global carbon cycle. I will give examples of both such effects using ant-plant mutualisms: seemingly idiosyncratic interactions in which plants provide food rewards for ants, and ants, in turn, protect plants from natural enemies. By acting as a plant defense that is variable in both space and time, ant-plant mutualisms increase food-web diversity in Costa Rican forests and increase carbon storage in Kenyan savannas.