Biodiv Sci ›› 2013, Vol. 21 ›› Issue (5): 582-589.  DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1003.2013.08077

Special Issue: 昆虫多样性与生态功能

• Orginal Article • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Characteristics of the production of underground fruits and seed dispersal of Crocus alatavicus, a geophytic-geocarpic species

Ziyan Fu, Dunyan Tan*()   

  1. Xinjiang Key Laboratory of Grassland Resources and Ecology & Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Western Arid Region Grassland Resource and Ecology, College of Grassland and Environment Sciences, Xinjiang Agricultural University, Urumqi 830052
  • Received:2013-04-01 Accepted:2013-06-14 Online:2013-09-20 Published:2013-10-08
  • Contact: Tan Dunyan


Geophytic-geocarpy is a special type of fruit production in angiosperms, whereby flowers with a long tubular perianth arise from underground buds and bloom above ground with the ovary and subsequent fruit remaining below ground. Crocus alatavicus, a geophytic-geocarpic species, is a perennial early-spring ephemeral that grows in subalpine areas of the western Tianshan Mountains. Based on field observations and controlled experiments, development of the underground ovaries and young fruits and seed dispersal were investigated for C. alatavicus and their adaptive significance analyzed. The results showed that developmental time from flowering to emergence of the underground capsules above the soil was about 35 days, and emergence of the underground capsules results from elongation of the peduncles, and then capsules dehisce and seeds are dispersed. Seeds of C. alatavicus have an elaiosome, which is typical of myrmecochores. Ants make a significant contribution to seed dispersal, and three ant species, Formica pressilabris, F. gagates and F. fusca, were recorded near newly-dispersed seeds of C. alatavicus. The visiting frequency of F. pressilabris was the highest, but F. fusca removed seeds faster and to a greater distance than the other two species. The average dispersal distance of the three ant species was 62.4±1.7 cm. Formica pressilabris, the major ant species taking seeds, ate the elaiosome after it moved the seeds into its nest and then stored more than 50% of the transported seeds in the nest. Rodents and birds had no effect on seed dispersal of C. alatavicus, but hydrophily and anemophily played a minor role in short-distance dispersal. Formation of seeds underground and their dispersal by ants help ensure that seeds escape damage from herbivores and fire and that they are dispersed in a manner that reduces sib-competition and competition between mother plant and offspring, thereby ensuring seed germination and seedling establishment in suitable environments.

Key words: Crocus alatavicus, dispersal, fruit development, geophytic-geocarpy, myrmecochore, seed elaiosome