Leaves from 120 canopy trees and 60 understory tree saplings growing in primary and secondary forests near Manaus, Brazil, were collected for determination of standing levels of herbivory (percent leaf area lost). Overall, levels of herbivory on leaves of central Amazonian trees were low. About one quarter of the leaves examined (n = 855) had no damage at all. In most other Neotropical sites studied the mean percentage of herbivory was found to vary between 5.7 and 13.1%, whereas in Manaus it was only 3.1%. The data presented here support the contention that levels of herbivore damage are positively related to soil fertility. No significant difference was found in herbivory levels between canopy trees and understory saplings. Also, there was no difference in damage between leaves from pioneer and late successional trees. Field assays of preference, however, revealed that leaves from pioneer trees are more palatable to leaf-cutting ants (Atta laevigata). This effect was dependent upon leaf age, being observed in mature leaves, but not in young leaves. The greater rate of leaf production in secondary forests may be a factor accounting for the greater abundance of leaf-cutting ants in secondary compared to primary forests.
ants; Atta laevigata; herbivory; insect-plant interactions; Amazon forest