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Arboreal Ant Abundance and Leaf Miner Damage in Coffee Agroecosystems in Mexico

De la Mora, Aldo, Livingston, George, Philpott, Stacy M.
Biotropica 2008 v.40 no.6 pp. 742-746
Azteca, agrochemicals, agroecosystems, canopy, ecosystem services, environmental factors, herbivores, leaves, nests, parasitic wasps, plantations, predators, pruning, shade trees, vegetation, Mexico
Shaded coffee agroecosystems traditionally have few pest problems potentially due to higher abundance and diversity of predators of herbivores. However, with coffee intensification (e.g., shade tree removal or pruning), some pest problems increase. For example, coffee leaf miner outbreaks have been linked to more intensive management and increased use of agrochemicals. Parasitic wasps control the coffee leaf miner, but few studies have examined the role of predators, such as ants, that are abundant and diverse in coffee plantations. Here, we examine linkages between arboreal ant communities and coffee leaf miner incidence in a coffee plantation in Mexico. We examined relationships between incidence and severity of leaf miner attack and: (1) variation in canopy cover, tree density, tree diversity, and relative abundance of Inga spp. shade trees; (2) presence of Azteca instabilis, an arboreal canopy dominant ant; and (3) the number of arboreal twig-nesting ant species and nests in coffee plants. Differences in vegetation characteristics in study plots did not correlate with leaf miner damage perhaps because environmental factors act on pest populations at a larger spatial scale. Further, presence of A. instabilis did not influence presence or severity of leaf miner damage. The proportion of leaves with leaf miner damage was significantly lower where abundance of twig-nesting ants was higher but not where twig-nesting ant richness was higher. These results indicate that abundance of twig-nesting ants in shaded coffee plantations may contribute to maintenance of low leaf miner populations and that ants provide important ecosystem services in coffee agroecosystems.