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Trees especially associated with animals

These trees are known for having mutually interdependent relationships with animal life.

Almendro - Dipteryx panamensis (Fabaceae, Papilionoidae)

These tall trees (up to 50 meters tall) occur in the Caribbean and Northern lowlands of the country. They are especially associated to an endangered species of bird: the Great Green Macaw (scientific name: Ara ambigua or Lapa verde in Spanish). These birds nest in the trunks of the almendros and the seeds and fruits of this tree constitute a large portion of their food.  The macaws are known for flying long distances just to find these fruiting trees. Therefore, the reduction of the almendro trees due to deforestation has a detrimental effect on the Green Macaw. In Costa Rica, there is a big project (Great Green Macaw Project) for the conservation of the Green Macaw habitats.

AguacatilloOcotea (Lauraceae)

The aguacatillo tree (it means “little avocado” in Spanish) belongs to the same family of the human-consumed avocado and is the favorite food of the quetzals. The quetzals are found between 1300 and 2500 meters, and migrate between these elevations during the year. The altitudinal migration of these birds follows the fruiting pattern of the aguacatillo trees. These birds nest in hollow trees between March and June, and it is also the time where they are noisy and easily seen.

Cornizuelo (Swollen-thorn acacia)- Acacia sp (Fabaceae, Mimosoidae)

The ants (Pseudomyrmex sp.) living in the cornizuelo trees are a fascinating example of association between plants and animals. In this association, the ants obtain food and shelter from their host (the acacia plant). The food consists of nectar produced in particular structures called nectaries located in the leaves (apart from flowers), and also protein bodies called Beltian bodies that the adult ants use to feed larvae. The swollen spines of the plant constitute the nesting sites of the ants. In exchange, the ants aggressively defend the plant against herbivores: the ants are going to fight, by biting and stinging, regardless their opponent’s size…and they’ll probably win most of their battles. In addition to attacking herbivores (insects or vertebrates), some ants also kill or sever neighboring vegetation. Colonies of one of the acacia-ant species (Pseudomyrmex spinicola) make circular clearings with a radius of up to 4 m around the acacia. The associations between organisms do not end here. Also some bird species preferentially nest on acacia trees: Rufous-naped wrens (Campylorhynchus rufinucha) Yellowolive Flycatcher (Tolmomyias sulphurescens), and Streaked-backed Oriole (Icterus pustulatus) build nests most frequently in ant-acacia trees. Apparently, the ants get used to the movement of the birds when they are building the nest. The association between acacia trees-ants-birds could get even more complex, because there are some wasps that like to nest on the acacia trees, and the birds actively look for them to build their own nest near to the wasps. Why do birds do that? Well, the main predators of the fledglings are deterred by the wasp presence. Amazing, don’t you think so?

Guarumo - (Cecropia sp - Cecropiaceae)

The Cecropia trees are pioneer species (plant species that grow in previously uncolonized land, starting the ecological succession, and therefore leading to the establishment of forest), and have a special relationship with the Azteca Ants.  The guarumos have hollow stems where colonies of Azteca ants nest. Similar to the Acacia, the Cecropia tree produces food for the ants to raise the brood, and the ants are very aggressive against potential herbivores. The people associate these trees with the sloths (Bradypus variegatus) because sloths are often seen eating eating from them. 

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