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Diversity and Abundance of Understorey Plants on Active and Abandoned Nests of Leaf-Cutting Ants (Atta cephalotes) in a Costa Rican Rain Forest

Mariana Garrettson, J. F. Stetzel, Ben S. Halpern, David J. Hearn, Brendan T. Lucey and Mark J. McKone
Journal of Tropical Ecology
Vol. 14, No. 1 (Jan., 1998), pp. 17-26
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2559863
Page Count: 10
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Diversity and Abundance of Understorey Plants on Active and Abandoned Nests of Leaf-Cutting Ants (Atta cephalotes) in a Costa Rican Rain Forest
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Abstract

Nests of leaf-cutting ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae: Attini) are abundant disturbances in Neotropical rain forests, and could affect the plant community both while the nests are active and after they are abandoned. We measured the diversity and abundance of understorey plants (<1 m in height) in the area around active and abandoned nests of leaf-cutting ants (Atta cephalotes) at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica. Sample quadrats on active nests had reduced diversity (number of morphospecies) and abundance of both small (height <10 cm) and large (10 cm-1 m) understorey plants, when compared to the nearby forest floor (3 and 13 m from the nest edge). Abandoned nests had greater diversity and marginally greater abundance of small understorey plants relative to nearby forest; there was no difference in diversity or abundance of large understorey plants. Leaf-cutting ant nests create gaps in the plant understorey when active, but serve as centres of recruitment for small plants after they are abandoned. Thus, like canopy gaps, ant nests could play an important role in recruitment of new individuals and maintenance of plant species diversity in tropical forests.

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