A pest is a pest is a pest? The dilemma of neotropical leaf-cutting ants: Keystone taxa of natural ecosystems
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Leaf-cutting ants of the genera Acromyrmex and Atta are considered the principal polyphagous pests of the Neotropics. Although some members of these genera are of economic importance, have a broad geographic distribution, and are extremely good colonizers, others are endemic and closely interact with native ecosystems. Control is generally practiced against any colony, irrespective of its taxonomic status. Indiscriminate control coupled with habitat destruction threatens endemic species with extinction, and, through habitat simplification, favors other pest species. As nests of Atta are large, having several square meters of nest surface, the endemic taxa can be easily used as environmental indicators for natural ecosystems. Likewise, the pest species can be used to detect environmental disturbance. As these ants are keystone species and easily identified by nonspecialists, efforts should be made to integrate these into viable conservation programs.