The effect of habitat fragmentation on communities of mutualists: Amazonian ants and their host plants


The consequences of fragmentation for communities of mutualist partners are for the most part unknown; moreover, most studies addressing this issue have been conducted on plant–pollinator communities. We evaluated how the experimental fragmentation of lowland Amazonian rain forest influenced a community of ant–plant mutualists. We inventoried a total of 1057 myrmecophytes in four fragments and four continuous forest sites; the twelve plant species recorded were occupied by 33 ant morphospecies, of which 11 were obligate plant inhabitants. Neither plant species richness, ant species richness, nor total ant–plant density were significantly lower in forest fragments. However, eight of the plant species, including three of the four most common, had higher mean densities in continuous forest than fragments. Of these four species, only one (Cordia nodosa) had significantly different colonization rates between habitat types, with higher colonization rates of plants in fragments. This may be because the Azteca species it is associated with increases in abundance in forest isolates. Although our results suggest that communities of ant–plant mutualists are likely to persist in fragmented tropical landscapes 25 years after fragment isolation, most species are rare and populations sizes in fragments are extremely low. Environmental and demographic stochasticity could therefore limit long-term population viability. We suggest future studies focus on evaluating how fragmentation has altered herbivore pressure and the dispersal of ants and plants to fragments, since the interaction of these factors is likely to have the greatest impact on long-term patterns of population persistence.

Biological Conservation, (124), 2, pp. 209–216,