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Decreasing abundance of leaf-cutting ants across a chronosequence of advancing Atlantic forest regeneration

  • Paulo S. D. Silva (a1) (a2), Ana G. D. Bieber (a1) (a2), Inara R. Leal (a3), Rainer Wirth (a4) and Marcelo Tabarelli (a3)...


Leaf-cutting ants (species of Atta and Acromyrmex) are dominant herbivores and play a key role as ecosystem engineers of tropical and subtropical America (Fowler et al. 1989, Weber 1972). Not only are they among the most polyphagous and voracious herbivorous insects, cutting up to 15% y−1 of the leaf standing crop (Urbas et al. 2007, Wirth et al. 2003), but also they strongly affect the light environment and the nature of plant assemblages via ant-nest-mediated disturbances (Farji-Brener & Illes 2000, Hull-Sanders & Howard 2003, Moutinho et al. 2003). Some leaf-cutting ant species have turned into an omnipresent feature of present-day neotropical landscapes and a wealth of studies has documented their abundance to drastically increase with increasing agricultural land use, disturbance and deforestation/fragmentation (Fowler et al. 1986, Jaffe 1986, Terborgh et al. 2001, Vasconcelos & Cherrett 1995, Wirth et al. 2007). In view of their ecosystem engineering capacity and the ever-increasing conversion of tropical forests into agricultural landscapes (Wright 2005), it has been concluded that disturbance-driven accumulation of Atta colonies leads to far-reaching and deleterious consequences in present-day neotropical landscapes (Wirth et al. 2008). But what about the opposite scenario of regenerating forests? Is disturbance-mediated hyper-abundance of leaf-cutting ants a reversible phenomenon? We believe that this question is highly relevant because (1) knowledge of the dynamics of leaf-cutting ant populations during forest regeneration is lacking and (2) natural secondary succession has become a widespread phenomenon after land is abandoned or temporarily fallowed (Wright 2005). In the Brazilian Amazon during the 1990s, for example, secondary forests have reclaimed 31% of the once deforested land (Perz & Skole 2003).


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Decreasing abundance of leaf-cutting ants across a chronosequence of advancing Atlantic forest regeneration

  • Paulo S. D. Silva (a1) (a2), Ana G. D. Bieber (a1) (a2), Inara R. Leal (a3), Rainer Wirth (a4) and Marcelo Tabarelli (a3)...


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