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Science editor's choice comments on papers by Herz and collaborators

September 17, 2007

Science editor's choice comments on papers by Herz and collaborators

The Editor's choice section of Science highlighted two papers published by STRI's Hubert Herz and collaborators based on field work done at STRI

The Editor's choice section of Science highlighted two papers published by STRI's Hubert Herz and collaborators based on field work done at STRI, on July 20, vol 317: 5836.

The papers by Herz, Beyschlag and Holldobler “Assessing herbivory rates of leaf-cutting ant (Atta colombica) colonies through short-term refuse deposition counts” and “Herbivory rate of leaf-cutting ants in a tropical moist forest in Panama at the population and ecosystem scales” were published in the July issue of Biotropica, pages 476-481 and 482-488, respectively. They were also featured on its cover. “Smaller harvests than expected” by Andrew M. Sugden, Science.

“Leaf-cutting ants of the genus Atta are ubiquitous residents of neotropical forests. They construct large subterranean colonies and journey on trails across the forest floor and into the forest canopy, where they harvest leaf fragments that are carried back to the nest. The fragments nourish a mutualistic fungus that in turn provides protein and carbohydrate for the ant colony. Leaf-cutters have been widely assumed to be the dominant herbivores in the forests they inhabit, but supportive quantitative data for this assumption are sparse.

Herz et al. first used a rapid and nondestructive method, involving the sampling of refuse deposited by ants outside their nests, as a proxy for measuring the daily harvest of leaves. Then they collected data from nearly 50 nests over 15 months in a Panamanian forest and calculated that the ants were actually responsible for only Hubert Herz, 2005 about 0.7% of total leaf consumption by all folivores (insects and vertebrates) in the forest. Even though these results indicate that the defoliation by leaf-cutters is more modest than previously thought, Urbas et al. found that herbivory by leaf-cutters in a Brazilian forest increased at the margins (versus the interiors) of forests that had been fragmented by human disturbance, thus amplifying environmental change.”

The articles may be obtained from: calderom@si.edu

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