Ecosystem engineers are profoundly important in many biological communities. A Neotropical taxonomic group considered to have engineering effects is the Formicidae (ants). Leaf-cutter ants (LCAs), in particular, which form extensive colonies of millions of individuals, can be important ecosystem engineers in these environments. While the effects of LCAs on plant community structure and soil chemistry are well-studied, their effects on consumers are poorly understood. Therefore, we examined the indirect effects of the LCA Atta cephalotes L. on the leaf-litter arthropod community. We compared abundance and diversity patterns at ant nests to areas distant from nests, utilizing both a factorial design and gradient analysis for both nocturnal and diurnal arthropods. We found that arthropod abundance and diversity was significantly lower for multiple taxonomic groups and trophic levels near leaf-cutter nests, and this pattern was strongest at night. Exceptions to this pattern included two morphospecies of Collembola that were more abundant on nests, suggesting some specialization for these species. For the gradient analysis, abundance increased exponentially for most groups of arthropods. However, for the dominant arthropod species, the amphipod Cerrorchestia hyloraina Lindeman, a quadratic function was the best fit curvilinear model for abundance. It appeared that C. hyloraina had maximal abundance at the transition between nest site and less disturbed forest. These results indicate that LCA activity has a strong effect on the leaf-litter arthropod community, adding to spatial heterogeneity within neotropical forests. These effects may translate into changes in important ecological processes such as nutrient cycling and food web function.
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