Do leaf-cutting ant nests make “bottom–up” gaps in neotropical rain forests?: a critical review of the evidence


Alejandro G. Farji-Brener E-mail:


We discuss the role of leaf cutting ant nests (Atta sp.) on the formation of understory “bottom–up” gaps in tropical rain forests. We (i) describe the characteristics of Atta nests that qualify them as promoters of understory gaps; (ii) review the effects of Atta nests on the dynamics of systems other than tropical forests; and (iii) discuss the hypotheses that in neotropical rain forests Atta nests affect plant productivity, and also influence distribution and community composition of the flora. Finally, we discuss the importance of Atta nests in the dynamics of forests and compare their effects with the better-known effects of treefall gaps. Atta nests modify soil structure, soil nutrient content, light intensity at ground level, seed bank composition and understory structure. The presence of the nest and associated refuse also accelerates the soil nutrient cycles. The size, high frequency, turnover rate and duration of these nests could make them a good substrate for particular species of plants. In spite of their potential importance, little information exists on the effects of Atta nests on plant productivity and/or plant composition in neotropical rain forests.