Marjorie Weber explores plant-protecting ants and other wonders of evolution

Tuesday, June 6, 2023 - 07:52 in Biology & Nature

A crack team of arthropod bodyguards may be defending that cherry tree in your backyard or the maple across the street.  Mites protect plants by acting like herds of grazing sheep, munching the fungi that creep across leaves. And ants patrol branches, ready to bite or sting hungry caterpillars ­— or even elephants. In return for the protection, plants offer food and housing. This kind of cooperation has evolved over and over again, says Marjorie Weber, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Plant bodyguards are everywhere, she says, but most people don’t even notice. Weber says she has long been drawn to “bizarre and interesting and underappreciated species.” As a kid, she liked roly-polys, earthworms, beetles and spiders. But more than individual bugs, Weber is fascinated by the richness of life on Earth. How did this vast assortment of species come to be? Start talking biodiversity, and Weber...

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