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Food Webs in the Litter: Effects of Food and Nest Addition on Ant Communities in Coffee Agroecosystems and Forest

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Community assembly is driven by multiple factors, including resource availability and habitat requirements. Litter nesting ants respond to food and nest site availability, and adding food and nests may increase ant species richness and abundance. However, litter decomposers share food resources with ants, and increasing food availability may speed decomposition processes, eliminating twigs and seeds in which litter ants nest. We manipulated ant food and nest resources in three habitat types (forest, high-shade coffee, and low-shade coffee) to determine ant community responses after 1 and 2 mo. We examined changes in numbers of ant species, colonies, workers, brood, colony growth rate, and ant species composition. Habitat type strongly affected ant communities, influencing ant species richness, numbers of colonies and workers, and ant species composition. However, food addition and nest addition did not affect these community characteristics. Colony growth rate did not differ with food addition but was greater in forest and low-shade coffee compared with high-shade coffee. Habitat differences in colony growth may be because of presence of an aggressive species (Wasmannia auropunctata Roger) in high-shade coffee plots or naturally low arthropod densities during a time when ant colonization was low. Thus, in coffee landscapes, habitat type impacts litter nesting ant community structure, composition, and colony growth rate; however, food and nest addition had small impacts.

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