Fungal entomopathogens are widely distributed across natural and managed systems, with numerous host species and likely a wide range of community impacts. While the potential for fungal pathogens to provide biological control has been explored in some detail, less is known about their community interactions. Here we investigate the effects of fungal epizootics of the entomopathogen Lecanicillium lecanii (Zimmerman) on a keystone mutualism between Azteca instabilis (F. Smith), a dominant arboreal ant, and the green coffee scale (Coccus viridis Green), as well as broader impacts on a coffee agroecosystem ant community. We hypothesized that seasonal epizootics cause shifts in the foraging ranges of A. instabilis as the ants adapt to the loss of the resource. We further hypothesized that the magnitude of these shifts depends on the availability of alternate resources located in neighboring shade trees. To test these hypotheses, we induced an epizootic in experimental sites, which were compared with control sites. Surveys of ant activity were undertaken pre- and postepizootic. We found a decrease in foraging activity of A. instabilis and increase in activity of other ant species in the experimental sites post-epizootic. The decrease in abundance of A. instabilis foragers was greater on plants in which an epizootic was induced than in other plants. This relationship was modified by shade tree density where higher shade tree density was associated with larger decreases in A. intabilis foraging activity in coffee plants. These results demonstrate the potential for fungal entomopathogens to influence the structure and diversity of ecological communities.
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Vol. 42 • No. 4