Human disturbance promotes herbivory by leaf-cutting ants in the Caatinga dry forest

Felipe F.S. Siqueira, José Domingos Ribeiro-Neto, Marcelo Tabarelli, Alan N. Andersen, Rainer Wirth, Inara R. Leal

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    Anthropogenic disturbances are known to modify plant–animal interactions such as those involving the leaf-cutting ants, the most voracious and proliferating herbivore across human-modified landscapes in the Neotropics. Here, we evaluate the effect of chronic anthropogenic disturbance (e.g., firewood collection, livestock grazing) and vegetation seasonality on foraging area, foliage availability in the foraging area, leaf consumption and herbivory rate of the leaf-cutting ant Atta opaciceps in the semiarid Caatinga, a mosaic of dry forest and scrub vegetation in northeast Brazil. Contrary to our initial expectation, the foraging area was not affected by either disturbance intensity or the interaction between season and disturbance intensity. However, leaf consumption and herbivory rate were higher in more disturbed areas. We also found a strong effect of seasonality, with higher leaf consumption and herbivory rate in the dry season. Our results suggest that the foraging ecology of leaf-cutting ants is modulated by human disturbance and seasonality as these two drivers affect the spectrum and the amount of resources available for these ants in the Caatinga. Despite the low productivity of Caatinga vegetation, the annual rates of biomass consumption by A. opaciceps are similar to those reported from other leaf-cutting ants in rain forests and savannas. This is made possible by maintaining high foraging activity even in the peak of the dry season and taking benefit from any resource available, including low-quality items. Such compensation highlights the adaptive capacity of LCA to persist or even proliferate in human-modified landscapes from dry to rain forests.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)779-788
    Number of pages10
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2018


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