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Leaf-cutting ants and early forest regeneration in central Amazonia: effects of herbivory on tree seedling establishment

  • Heraldo L. Vasconcelos (a1) and J. Malcolm Cherrett (a2)

Abstract

The effects of herbivory by the leaf-cutting ant Atta laevigata Fr. Smith on the re-establishment of forest trees in an abandoned farm near Manaus, central Amazonia, were investigated. Experimental seedling transplants and observations on seedlings which emerged naturally in the study area showed that damage by leaf-cutting ants negatively affected tree seedling survival and growth. However, excluding leaf-cutting ants from experimental plots for 20 mo did not significantly increase tree seedling densities. The number of seedlings emerging varied considerably between plots and this obscured any effect the ants may have had on seedling survivorship. Taller seedlings, and seedlings attacked only once, suffered less mortality than smaller seedlings and seedlings attacked twice or more. In general, mortality was greater for those species preferred by the ants, indicating that selective herbivory by leaf-cutting ants affects tree species composition. The number of seedlings attacked by A. laevigata remained approximately constant throughout the period of this study in spite of the fact that the number available for attack increased. Thus, the chance of any individual seedling being attacked declined with time, suggesting that the effect of Atta herbivory on tree establishment is stronger during the first few years of forest regeneration.

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Journal of Tropical Ecology
  • ISSN: 0266-4674
  • EISSN: 1469-7831
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