Negative Effects of Azteca Ants on the Distribution of the Termite Neocapritermes braziliensis in Central Amazonia

Pedro A. C. Lima Pequeno


Termites play important roles in tropical ecosystem functioning, and their evolutionary success has been linked to their defense mechanisms. However, microhabitat overlap with potential aggressors may constrain their distribution and thus, their environmental impacts on an ecological timescale. We investigated a possible negative effect of abundant generalist ants (Azteca sp.) on the termite Neocapritermes braziliensis. Both taxa frequently build their nests attached to trees. We determined the densities of their active nests in 10 plots (250 x 10 m) systematically distributed over 5 km2 in central Amazonia, Brazil, and recorded their co-occurrence in individual trees. Using generalized nonlinear modeling in a Bayesian framework, we found good support for a negative effect of Azteca’s nest density on N. braziliensis’. This effect conformed to a power law, and accounted for more than half of the variation in the termite’s nest density (r2 = 0.56). Additionally, of all counted N. braziliensis mounds, only 1.08 percent was attached to trees also hosting Azteca. Such patterns may have arisen due to N. braziliensis’ inability to establish new nests within Azteca territories, or predation by ants on established colonies of the termite. We suggest that even non-strictly termitophagous ant species may have important impacts on termite populations and, consequently, on their roles in nutrient cycling and ecosystem engineering. 


Bayesian inference; generalized nonlinear modeling; population limitation; power law; social insect; species distribution

Full Text:



Adams, E.S., & W.R. Tschinkel. 2001. Mechanisms of population regulation in the fire ant Solenopsis invicta: An experimental study. Journal of Animal Ecology 70(3):355– 369.

Andersen, A.N. 2008. Not enough niches: non-equilibrial processes promoting species coexistence in diverse ant communities. Austral Ecology 33(2): 211–220.

Bandeira, A.G. 1979. Ecologia de cupins (Insecta: Isoptera) da Amazônia Central: efeitos do desmatamento sobre as populações. Acta Amazonica 9: 481–499.

Blüthgen, N., M. Verhaagh, W. Goitía, K. Jaffé, W. Morawetz & W. Barthlott. 2000. How plants shape the ant community in the Amazonian rainforest canopy: the key role of extrafloral nectarines and homopteran honeydew. Oecologia 125(2):229–240.

Borer, E.T., B.S. Halpern & E.W. Seabloom. 2006. Asymmetry in community regulation: effects of predators and productivity. Ecology 87(11):2813–2820.

Buczkowski, G., & G. Bennett. 2008. Behavioral interactions between Aphaenogaster rudis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and Reticulitermes flavipes (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae): the importance of physical barriers. Journal of Insect Behavior 21(4):296–305.

Chapman, R.E. & A.F.G. Bourke. 2001. The inluence of sociality on the conservation biology of social insects. Ecology Letters 4:650–662.

Constantino, R. 1992. Abundance and diversity of termites (Insecta: Isoptera) in two sites of primary rain forest in Brazilian Amazonia. Biotropica 24(3):420–430.

Costa, F.C.C., & W.E. Magnusson. 2010. The need for large-scale, integrated studies of biodiversity – the experience of the Program for Biodiversity Research in Brazilian Amazonia. Natureza & Conservação 8:3-12.

Dejean, A., M. Kenne, & C.S. Moreau. 2007a. Predatory abilities favour the success of the invasive ant Pheidole megacephala in an introduced area. Journal of Applied Entomology 131(9-10):625–629.

Dejean, A., B. Corbara, J. Orivel, & M. Leponce. 2007b. Rainforest canopy ants: The implications of territoriality and predatory behavior. Functional Ecosystems and Communities 1:105–120.

Dejean, A., J. Grangier, C. Leroy, & J. Orivel. 2009. Predation and aggressiveness in host plant protection: a generalization using ants from the genus Azteca. Naturwissenschaften 96(1):57–63.

DeSouza, O., A.P.A. Araújo & J. Reis Jr.. 2009. Trophic controls delaying foraging by termites: reasons for the ground being brown? Bulletin of Entomological Research 99:603–609.

Gonçalves, T.T., R. Reis Jr., O. DeSouza, & S.P. Ribeiro. 2005. Predation and interference competition between ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) and arboreal termites (Isoptera: Termitidae). Sociobiology 46(2):409–419.

Hairston, N.G., F.E. Smith & L.B. Slobodkin. 1960. Community structure, population control and competition. The American Naturalist 94(879):421–425.

Hölldobler, B. & E.O. Wilson. 1990. The ants. Massachusets: Harvard University Press 733 pp.

Hunter, M.D. & P.W. Price. 1992. Playing chutes and ladders—heterogeneity and the relative roles of bottom-up and top-down forces in natural communities. Ecology 73(3):724–732.

Jiang, L. & P.J. Morin. 2005. Predator diet breadth influences the relative importance of bottom-up and top-down control of prey biomass and diversity. The American Naturalist 165(3):350–363.

Jutsum, A.R., J.M. Cherrett, & M. Fisher. 1981. Interactions between the fauna of citrus trees in Trinidad and the ants Atta cephalotes and Azteca sp. Journal of Applied Ecology 18(1):187–195.

Kaspari, M. & S.P. Yanoviak. 2001. Bait use in tropical litter and canopy ants – evidence of differences in nutrient limitation. Biotropica 33(1):207–211.

Korb, J. & K.E. Linsenmair. 2002. Evaluation of predation risk in the collectively foraging termite Macrotermes bellicosus. Insectes Sociaux 49(3): 264–269.

Krebs, C. 2002. Beyond population regulation and limitation. Wildlife Research 29(1):1–10.

Krishna, K. & R.L. Araujo. 1968. A revision of the neotropical genus Neocapritermes (Isoptera, Termitidae, Nasutitermitinae). Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History 138:84–138.

Leal, I.R. & O.S. Oliveira. 1995. Behavioral ecology of the neotropical termite-hunting ant Pachycondyla (=Termitopone) marginata: colony founding, group-raiding and migratory patterns. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 37(6):373–383.

Leponce, M., Y. Roisin & J.M. Pasteels. 1999. Community interactions between ants and arboreal-nesting termites in New Guinea coconut plantations. Insectes Sociaux 46(2):126–130.

Levin, S.E. 1992. The problem of pattern and scale in ecology: The Robert H. MacArthur Award Lecture. Ecology 73:1943–1967.

Link, W.A. & R.J. Barker. 2010. Bayesian inference with ecological applications. London: Academic Press 339 pp.

McCarthy, M.A. & P. Masters. 2005. Profiting from prior information in Bayesian analyses of ecological data. Journal of Applied Ecology. 42(6):1012–1019.

McIntosh, A.R., H.S. Greig, S.A. McMurtrie, P. Nyström & M.J. Winterbourn. 2005. Topdown and bottom-up influences on populations of a stream detritivore. Freshwater Biology 50(7):1206–1218.

Mill, A.E. 1982. Faunal studies on termites (Isoptera) and observations on their ant predators (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in the Amazon basin. Revista Brasileira de Entomologia 26:253–260.

Mill, A.E. 1983. Observations on Brazilian termite alate swarms and some structures used in the dispersal of reproductives (Isoptera: Termitidae). Journal of Natural History 17(3):309–320.

Noirot, C. & J.P.E.C. Darlington. 2000. Termite nests: architecture, regulation and defense. In: Abe, T., D.E. Bignell & M. Higashi (ed.). Termites: evolution, sociality, symbioses, ecology. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands: 121-139.

Parr, C.L. & H. Gibb. 2010. Competition and the role of dominant ants. In: Lach, L., C.L. Parr & K.L. Abbott (ed.). Ant ecology. Oxford University Press, New York, USA: 77-96.

Polis, G.A. & D.R. Strong. 1996. Food web complexity and community dynamics. The American Naturalist 147(5):813–846.

R Core Development Team. 2009. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing. Vienna, Austria.

White, T.C.R. 2008. The role of food, weather and climate in limiting the abundance of animals. Biological Reviews 83(3):227–248.

Scholtz, O.I., N. MacLeod & P. Eggleton. 2008. Termite soldier defence strategies: a reassessment of Prestwich’s classification and an examination of the evolution of defence morphology using extended eigenshape analyses of head morphology. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 153(4):631–650.

Spiegelhalter, D., A. Thomas, N. Best & D. Lunn. 2003. WinBUGS User Manual. Version 1.4. Technical report, Medical Research Council Biostatistcs Unit, Cambridge.

Sturtz, S., U. Ligges & A. Gelman. 2005. R2WinBUGS: A package for running WinBUGS from R. Journal of Statistical Software 12:1–16.

Wells, J.D. & G. Henderson. 1993. Fire ant predation on native and introduced subterranean termites in the laboratory: effects of high soldier number in Coptotermes formosanus. Ecological Entomology 18(3):270–274.

Zheng, B. & A. Agresti. 2000. Summarizing the predictive power of a generalized linear model. Statistics in Medicine 19(13):1771–1781.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

JCR Impact Factor 2018: 0.504