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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Multi-scale mosaics in top-down pest control by ants from natural coffee forests to plantations

Stuber, Moritz; Tack, Ayco J. M.; Zewdie, Beyene; Mendesil, Esayas; Shimales, Tamiru; Ayalew, Biruk; Nemomissa, Sileshi; Sjogren, Jorgen; Vesterinen, Eero; Wezel, Alexander; Hylander, Kristoffer


While top-down control plays an important role in shaping both natural and agricultural food webs, we lack insights into how top-down control effects vary across spatial scales. We used a multi-scale survey of top-down control of coffee pests and diseases by arboreal ants to examine if colony location creates a small-scale mosaic in top-down control around trees and if the strength of that control varies between sites at the landscape scale. We investigated pest and disease levels on coffee shrubs at different distances from shade trees with and without a Crematogaster spp. ant colony in 59 sites along a coffee management intensity gradient in southwestern Ethiopia. Within sites, ants significantly suppressed herbivory and coffee leaf rust at distances less than 10 m from nesting trees. Top-down control varied between sites, with stronger top-down control of free-feeding herbivory near ant colonies at sites with lower management intensity and stronger top-down control of a skeletonizer at sites with higher canopy cover. We conclude that the strength of top-down control by ants is highly heterogeneous across spatial scales, as a consequence of the biology of the predator at the small scale and herbivore density or changes in herbivore-ant interactions at the landscape scale.


ants; biological pest control; Coffea arabica; coffee leaf rust; Crematogaster sp; Ethiopia; herbivory; Leucoplema dohertyi; Leucoptera sp; scale-dependence

Published in

2021, Volume: 102, number: 7, article number: e03376
Publisher: WILEY