, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 241-250

Chaff piles of harvester ant (Messor spp.) nests in a desert ecosystem

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Summary

The plant species composition of the chaff piles of three species of harvester ant (Messor spp.) and the contribution of the chaff to the organic pool were studied from August 1985 to July 1987. There were distinct differences in the plant species composition of the chaff of the three species. We attribute this to the different diets of the three species, which reflect the relative sizes of their individuals and their foraging strategies. The amount of chaff accumulated varies greatly between the three species (Messor rugossus: 127–196 g · ha−1 · y−1;Messor ebeninus: 2823–4437 g · ha−1 · y−1;Messor arenarius: 2165–2535 g · ha−1 · y−1), although the number of nests per hectare is virtually the same. We found that the amount of chaff is related to the rate of activity and the size of the individuals of each of the three ant species. The total chaff accumulated during the study period was 19.2 kg · ha−1, which is an important contribution to the organic matter in the soil in the Negev desert ecosystem.