The Forest Project

An artistic, cross-sectional study of the ​relationship between forest fragmentation​
– resulting in many and varied landscape patches – and species survival.
By drawing attention to the beauty and intricacies of the minute within the grand,
​& the interdependent reciprocal relationships within these interwoven communities,
my hope is that expressing observations artistically
will serve to support the preservation of mature intact forests.

Seed Dispersal by Ants ​A Story of Reciprocity​

featuring Plagiomnium ciliare, Aphaenogaster picea & Trillium grandiflorum

​“Plagiomnium ciliare
​​A Study of Saber Tooth Moss

Class: Musci    Subclass: Bryidae    Family: Mniaceae
Genus: Plagiomnium    Growth Form: Acrocarpus

watercolour painting Plagiomnium ciliare A Study of Saber Tooth Moss
“Plagiomnium ciliare A Study of Saber Tooth Moss”, watercolour on sketchbook paper © Suzanne Matheson, 2019

Identifying Features
This moss, with vegetative stems trailing along the ground and capsule-bearing stems standing upright, intertwines to form loose, dark green tufts 3-6 cm tall.
Leaves are 5-8 mm long, shiny green to yellow green, tongue-shaped, with rounded apex. Their midrib extends to a point beyond the leaf tip. Sharp teeth run from tip to base along margins having a faint border. Leaf corners extend down onto the stem, alternating in a growth pattern of two neat rows. Leaves cluster into rosettes only on the tops of upright stems.

This moss species grows in various locations within the forest: on soil, rotting logs, tree bases, rocks in shady swamp areas, and along streams. Growing on soil or rotting logs, you may discover Aphaenogaster picea wandering within.

Interestingly, these two species are not in competition for water. While water is all-important to the moss, this ant species regularly refuses liquids.

One idea for this study – become one in a series of illustrations & natural history artworks –
weaving a story of reciprocity within a healthy forest community.
Perhaps the habitat scene and infographic below may also be included in this series.

Trillium grandiflorum Seed Dispersal by
Aphaenogaster picea Ants

in Plagiomnium ciliare & Ctenidium molluscum ​forest floor mosses

During late summer/early autumn, in the ground mosses of mature, intact Beech-Maple forests of ne NA, Aphaenogaster picea worker ants are busy carrying Trillium grandiflorum diaspores back to their nest. When their larvae young feed on the elaiosomes they leave the seeds behind, undamaged. After feeding, the workers discard the seeds by casting them out of the nest or carrying them to underground middens.

watercolour painting Trillium grandiflorum Seed Dispersal by Aphaenogaster picea Ants
“Trillium grandiflorum Seed Dispersal by Aphaenogaster picea Ants” in P. ciliare & C. molluscum forest floor mosses, watercolour on 35.56 cm (14") x 35.56 cm (14") Canson Moulin du Roy HP 140 lb. paper © Suzanne Matheson, 2019

Myrmecochory is seed dispersal by ants. Myrmecochorous plants produce diaspores, seeds with elaiosomes or external appendages, also known as “food bodies”, rich in lipids, amino acids and various other nutrients. These food bodies attract ants.

​​Myrmecochory represents a reciprocal or mutually beneficial relationship. While the ant larvae benefit from the rich food produced by the plants, the plants benefit by having their seeds carried farther away than they themselves can drop them, to a microsite that is made rich in nutrients by the ants and provides protection from predators.

Here, a new plant colony is born!

​“Aphaenogaster picea  A Seed Dispersal Ant

Piceous, glossy brownish-black in color, with the last four antennal segments (the club) lighter, along with the gaster tip of worker ants. Their northern NA range is also diagnostic.

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This scientific illustration was produced first with a crowquill pen and ink on Strathmore Bristol smooth 400 series paper, then scanned and overlaid with digital watercolour in Photoshop CS6 using a Wacom tablet & stylus. Also in Photoshop, labels and text were added, for the complete infographic presentation below.

Aphaenogaster picea A Seed Dispersal Ant infographic
“Aphaenogaster picea A Seed Dispersal Ant” infographic, traditional and digital mediums © Suzanne Matheson, 2019

This portion of The Forest Project was completed in fulfillment of certificate requirements from
​the Scientific Illustration Distance Program.

"... imagine a different relationship,
in which people and land ​are good medicine for each other."

​The Forest Project . . . a work of indefinite boundary​

Being the youngest organisms on this life-giving planet, humans have much to learn from the interactions of all who came before. My intention is to continue gathering lessons of healthy community living and to translate them into visual story form. ​Through this means I hope to encourage deeper understanding as well as practical action, toward
“a different relationship, in which people and land are good medicine for each other.”

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