Arboreal ant abundance tracks primary productivity in an Amazonian whitewater river system

Elizabeth G. Pringle, Talitha Ferreira dos Santos, Marcelle S. Gonçalves, Joseph E. Hawes, Carlos A. Peres, Fabricio B. Baccaro

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Little is known about consumer productivity in the tropics despite the key feedbacks that animals impose on primary productivity. In the Amazon basin, seasonally flooded and unflooded forests exist side by side, and ants (Formicidae) dominate animal biomass. Although flooding has a direct negative effect on soil-dwelling ants, it is less clear whether flooding has indirect effects on arboreal ants via associated changes in tree communities. To test whether seasonal inundation by whitewater affects arboreal ants, we investigated ant communities in adjacent flooded and unflooded forests along a major whitewater river in central-western Amazonia. Whitewater-flooded forest exhibits higher primary productivity than unflooded forest. We thus hypothesized that forest type would affect the productivity and the foraging traits of arboreal ants and that these changes would be mediated by increases in plant-derived food for ants in flooded forest. We compared ant and plant communities between flooded- and unflooded-forest transects along the Juruá River in Amazonas, Brazil. We collected, identified, and counted terrestrial and arboreal ants, and we measured ant traits with putative relationships to foraging strategy. We also identified plant stems to characterize the abundance of ant food rewards. Flooding negatively affected the diversity and abundance of terrestrial ants but did not change the diversity of arboreal ants. Arboreal ants were more abundant and exhibited higher biomass in flooded forest than in unflooded forest. Arboreal ant traits also suggested that ants may rely more heavily on plant-derived food in flooded forest than in unflooded forest. These differences were associated with a higher abundance of plant stems predicted to contain ant food rewards in flooded forest than in unflooded forest. Our results indicate that the productivity of arboreal ants is affected by that of the underlying forest. Such effects may be mediated by the predominantly herbivorous foraging strategy of canopy ants, which would link ant populations closely to primary production and stoichiometry. Given ants’ important functional roles, these differences in ant productivity between forest types may have consequences for other arthropods and feedbacks to plants throughout the Amazon basin.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02902
Issue number10
Early online date11 Oct 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • abundance
  • Amazon rainforest
  • biomass
  • bottom-up
  • cryptic herbivores
  • Formicidae
  • seasonal flooding
  • secondary productivity
  • stoichiometry
  • terra firme
  • trophic cascades
  • várzea

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