Annual foraging of the leaf-cutting ant Atta colombica in a semideciduous rain forest in Panama

Rainer Wirth, Wolfram Beyschlag, Ronald J. Ryel, Bert Hölldobler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

58 Scopus citations


In a 1-y study of vegetation harvested by the leaf-cutting ants, Atta colombica Guerin, daily harvesting activity of two nests was observed for 24 h at c. 1-wk intervals (colony I: June 1993-June 1994; colony II: February-June 1994) on Burro Colorado Island. The average daily quantity of green leaves harvested by colony I was higher during the wet season (11.4 m2 d-1) than during the dry season (9.0 m2d-1), but was highly variable between survey days. Total annual herbivory of green leaves was estimated to be 3,855 m2 foliage area for colony I and 1,707 m2 for colony II. Total dry weight of biomass harvested was higher in the dry season because most material collected during the wet season consisted of green leaves, while during the dry season, more than 50% of the total collected biomass was non-green plant material (stipules of Ficus sp., fruits, seeds, and flower parts of a variety of other species) which represented c. one third (111 kg y-1) of the total annual intake (370 kg y-1) of plant material. Total daily biomass intake was negatively correlated with daytime rainfall. The peak of daily foraging was affected by timing and duration of rainfall events. Highest input rates normally occurred between 15:00 and 16:00 h (colony I). Dry weight and surface area of harvested leaf fragments differed between plant species, with thicker leaves generally being cut into smaller pieces. Significant linear correlations were found between total daily harvest of fragments and the respective harvesting rate at the maximum of daily activity. High correspondence was found between estimates using this relationship and the measured daily leaf harvest of four other Atta colonies and of two colonies reported in published literature. The use of this relationship as a research tool is discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)741-757
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Tropical Ecology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Atta colombica
  • Foraging patterns
  • Herbivory
  • Leaf-cutting ants
  • Tropical rain forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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