, Volume 30, Issue 6, pp 395-402

Parasitic flies (Diptera: Phoridae) influence foraging rhythms and caste division of labor in the leaf-cutter ant, Atta cephalotes (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

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Summary

Three lines of evidence, including interspecific comparisons, temporal division of foraging between size castes, and experimental manipulations, suggest that the diurnal parasitoid Neodohrniphora curvinervis (Diptera: Phoridae) influences both the caste sizes and numbers of leaf-cutter ants (Atta cephalotes) that leave their underground nests to collect leaves. At Parque Nacional Corcovado in Costa Rica, A. cephalotes was attacked by Neodohrniphora during the daytime, and foraged less during the day than at night; a closely related ant at the same site, A. colombica, had no phorid parasites and foraged exclusively during the day. Most daytime foragers of A. cephalotes were smaller than the lower size threshold for attack by Neodohrniphora, while nocturnal foragers, active when parasitoids were absent, were both larger than this threshold and within the energetically optimal size range for foraging. When I supplied artificial lighting to allow phorids to hunt at A. cephalotes colonies past dusk, ants foraged less than when light was provided but flies were removed. The influence of Neodohrniphora on the foraging activity of A. cephalotes may explain why investigations focusing on abiotic factors have largely failed to discover what drives this ant's daily foraging cycles, and suggests that forager sizes are influenced not only by energetic efficiency, but also by the threat of parasitism.