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1 December 2004 Seedling recruitment in a semi-arid Patagonian steppe: Facilitative effects of refuse dumps of leaf-cutting ants
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Abstract

Question: What is the influence of refuse dumps of leaf-cutting ants on seedling recruitment under contrasting moisture conditions in a semi-arid steppe?

Location: Northwestern Patagonia, Argentina.

Methods: In a greenhouse experiment, we monitored seedling recruitment in soil samples from refuse dumps of nests of the leaf-cutting ant Acromyrmex lobicornis and non-nest sites, under contrasting moisture conditions simulating wet and dry growing seasons.

Results: The mean number of seedling species and individuals were higher in wet than in dry plots, and higher in refuse dump plots than in non-nest soil plots. The positive effect of refuse dumps on seedling recruitment was greater under low moisture conditions. Both the accumulation of discarded seeds by leaf-cutting ants and the passive trapping of blowing-seeds seems not explain the increased number of seeds in refuse dumps. Conversely, refuse dumps have higher water retention capacity and nutrient content than adjacent non-nest soils, allowing the recruitment of a greater number of species and individual seedlings.

Conclusions: Nests of A. lobicornis may play an important role in plant recruitment in the study area, allowing a greater number of seedlings and species to be present, hence resulting in a more diverse community. Moreover, leaf-cutting ant nests may function as nurse elements, generating safe sites that enhance the performance of neighbouring seedlings mainly during the driest, stressful periods.

Nomenclature: Correa (1969–1998).

Alejandro G. Farji-Brener and Luciana Ghermandi "Seedling recruitment in a semi-arid Patagonian steppe: Facilitative effects of refuse dumps of leaf-cutting ants," Journal of Vegetation Science 15(6), 823-830, (1 December 2004). https://doi.org/10.1658/1100-9233(2004)015[0823:SRIASP]2.0.CO;2
Received: 17 May 2003; Accepted: 7 October 2004; Published: 1 December 2004
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