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Ant nests and soil nutrient availability: the negative impact of fire

  • Leandro Sousa-Souto (a1), José H. Schoereder (a2), Carlos Ernesto G. R. Schaefer (a3) and Washington L. Silva (a4)
Abstract:
Abstract:

High-nutrient patches are important for regulating the structure and physiognomy of dystrophic habitats. Leaf-cutting ants create these rich patches in many neotropical habitats. Burning, however, could diminish or even annul the effects of ant nests on soil properties. To test this hypothesis, we compared the nutrient concentrations at various depths in soil samples near three nests of the leaf-cutting ant Atta laevigata and three non-nest soils, located in 10-ha plots subjected to burning or with fire-protection within a Brazilian cerrado. Root density in ant-nest soil was greater than in non-nest soil in both unburned and burned plots. Besides, the concentration of Ca, Mg, K and P increased 2–50-fold in ant nests from the unburned area compared to non-nest soils. In contrast, nutrient concentrations and pH in burned ant nests were similar to or lower than non-nest soils, but the nests maintained higher values of organic matter and cation exchange capacity. The positive effect of leaf-cutting ant nests as high-nutrient patches may be strongly reduced in habitats with frequent burning. In this case, the negative effects of leaf-cutter herbivory on a plant community could surpass the benefits of local nutrient enrichment by their nests.

Resumo: Sauveiros modificam as propriedades físicas e químicas do solo, alterando a estrutura e fisionomia local. Entretanto, queimadas podem reduzir os efeitos dos formigueiros nesses ambientes como, por exemplo, pela diminuição do forrageamento das formigas e, conseqüentemente, pela baixa incorporação de material orgânico ao solo. Este estudo testou o efeito do fogo sobre a concentração de nutrientes no solo de colônias de Atta laevigata em área de cerrado. A densidade de raízes foi maior nas colônias do que áreas controle, independentemente da presença do fogo. Na ausência de queimadas, as concentrações de nutrientes foram até 50 vezes superiores nos sauveiros. Contudo, queimadas reduzem a concentração de nutrientes e pH nas colônias. Possivelmente, essa baixa concentração seja atribuída à maior demanda pela vegetação remanescente, em resposta à perturbação provocada pelo fogo. Nesse caso, os efeitos negativos da herbivoria podem superar os benefícios causados por meio da disponibilização de nutrientes pelos sauveiros.

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Corresponding author
1Corresponding author. Present address: Departamento de Biologia, Laboratório de Entomologia, Universidade Federal de Sergipe, Brazil, 49100–000. Email: leandrosouto@insecta.ufv.br
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Journal of Tropical Ecology
  • ISSN: 0266-4674
  • EISSN: 1469-7831
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