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Edge-mediated reduction of phorid parasitism on leaf-cutting ants in a Brazilian Atlantic forest

Authors


*Correspondence: Inara R. Leal, Departamento de Botânica, Universidade Federal de Pernambuco, Av. Prof. Moraes Rego s/no, 50670-901 Recife, PE, Brazil. E-mail: irleal@ufpe.br

Abstract

Previous studies have shown that leaf-cutting ant populations benefit greatly from living in or near the edges of the Brazilian Atlantic forest. One of the mechanisms responsible for this rise in population density is an edge-mediated increase of pioneer plants, resulting in increased food availability for the ants (i.e., less bottom-up control). Here, we hypothesized that the release from natural enemies (i.e., less top-down control) may also contribute to the phenomenon. We investigated whether parasitism of phorid flies on leaf-cutting ants decreases in colonies located along the forest edge vs. the interior of a large tract of Atlantic forest in northeastern Brazil. For this, we assessed abundance and rates of oviposition attack by phorids in bimonthly intervals over a period of 1 year in 10 adult colonies of Atta cephalotes (L.) (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Myrmicinae), five at the forest edge and five in the forest interior. The number of phorids attracted by ants at edge colonies was 40% lower than that at interior colonies. The temporal variation in phorid attraction was also significant, with approximately 35% fewer flies in the dry months as compared to the rainy months. As a result of lower phorid abundance, ant workers of edge colonies suffered three times fewer oviposition attacks than those of interior colonies. There was a tendency for fewer attacks during dry months, but the difference in the temporal variation was not significant. Our findings suggest that edge creation contributes to increased leaf-cutting ant abundance, not only via the attenuation of bottom-up forces, but also through an environmentally triggered depression of parasitoid abundance/efficiency, possibly because of adverse environmental conditions in edge habitats.

Ancillary