Approximately 70 plant families worldwide have ant-dispersed seeds (myrmecochory). In this putative ant-plant mutualism, ants are attracted to and disperse seeds that have a lipid-rich elaiosome. We observed yellow jackets (Vespula spp.) dispersing seeds of three elaiosome-bearing species—Trillium cuneatum, T. undulatum and T. catesbaei—in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and South Carolina. Moreover, we estimated the mean distance yellow jackets dispersed seeds of T. cuneatum by placing intact fruits on index cards and recovering dispersed seeds on sheets placed on the ground surface. Of the seeds presented, 41% were recovered and the average dispersal distance was 1.4 m (range 0.1–2.6 m). Some yellow jackets carrying Trillium seeds flew out of sight and probably dispersed seeds farther (perhaps 20 m or more). To our knowledge, this is the first report of yellow jackets dispersing elaiosome-bearing seeds in eastern North America. Although the fate of vespid-dispersed seeds is unknown, seed dispersal by yellow jackets might benefit plants by increasing the dispersal distance of seeds and, therefore, potentially reducing density-dependent mortality and expanding species ranges.
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Vol. 146 • No. 2