Studies of the spatial distribution, floristic composition, insect fauna, and internal characteristics of ant gardens (AGs) were conducted during several visits to the Surumoni research crane site in southern Venezuela in 1997 and 1998. AGs were more abundant in the sunniest sector of the study area. Four families of epiphytes were represented in the AGs, with Araceae being the dominant one. Frequent plant species were Anthurium gracile, A. trinerve, Codonanthe calcarata, Aechmea tillandsiodes, and Philodendron deflexum. Colonies of various ant species were found living in AGs, of which the most prominent were Cremato gaster cf. limata parabiotica, Camponotus femoratus, Anochetus emarginatus, Paratrechina sp., Gnamptogenys ? tortuolosa, ? Oligomyrmex sp., Wasmannia sp., Pheidole sp., and Solenopsis sp. Dramatic changes in climate brought about by El Niño affected the microclimate of AGs, altering their suitability as temporal nests for ants. The main components found in the interior of a typical AG are carton, fine roots associated with cyanobacteria, ant brood, workers and queen(s), and a soil-like deposit here termed "substrate." The major interactions in an AG may be as follows: ants bring allochthonous material (plant sap, insects, seeds) to the nest as food for their larvae, build nest carton, and disperse epiphyte seeds and cyanobacteria. Epiphytes grow more efficiently associated with ants. Their external roots lend structural support to the nest, and their fine roots obtain superior nutrients from their detritus and fixed nitrogen from their association with cyanobacteria. Cyanobacteria also may recycle carbon from root exudates and ant detritus.
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