The report demonstrates how the force of evolution sustains cooperative relationships between certain species, even when it’s evident that one party is primarily enjoying the advantages of the arrangement.
The majority of sugary substances consumed by ants, like plant sap, contain a type of sugar known as sucrose. Ants process sucrose using an enzyme called invertase, which breaks down sucrose into smaller sugar molecules.
Researchers demonstrated that none of the worker ants belonging to the (Pseudomyrmex ferrugineus) species possess invertase activity, rendering them unable to digest typical sucrose sources.
Thankfully, the tree counterbalances this limitation by releasing invertase within its nectar, thereby offering the ants a pre-digested meal. Consequently, the ants exhibit a preference for acacia nectar over alternative sugar sources.
Acacia nectar contains chitinase enzymes that effectively inhibit invertase activity. Once the worker ants mature from pupae into adults, their invertase is permanently disabled upon their initial consumption of nectar.