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Study of the potentiality of some plant species and natural products for the control of leaf-cutting ants


Leaf-cutter ants of the Attini group use plant material as a substrate for the fungus they cultivate and which serves as their food. In our country this phenomenon has caused serious damage to agriculture and to reforestation. In the fight against it, organochlorate and organophosphate insecticides have been used which act on all insects indistinctly. In addition to this, the high toxicity and the failure to observe safety norms has caused numerous accidents, some fatal. These insecticides are not biodegradable and have cost the country's coffers dearly, since the majority are imported. Sesame (Sesamum indicum), an exotic plant introduced into America around 200 years ago, is highly preferred by Atta sexdens rubropilosa and has already been used empirically in the control of sauba ants in the field. Laboratory trials carried out by our group showed a gradual regression in the number of individuals and in the fungic mass until the complete extinction of the anthills treated with sesame leaves. Also tested were chloroformic and methanolic extracts of sesame in fungi cultivated by Atta sexdens rubropilosa demonstrating the toxic action on the fungus and scientifically the empirical usefulness of sesame in the control of anthills. The basic objectives of the project are to understand completely the action of sesame on anthills, to identify its chemical constituents, the synthesis of these constituents, to extend this research to other plants that are used empirically in the control of saubas [Ricinnus comunis L., Centrosema brasilianus L. (Benth)] and those that are not attacked by ants (Virola sebifera) aiming for biorational control or substances that are biodegradable in anthills. In parallel to this study, we will analyze the mineral constitutions of the substances used in the foraging, of the fungal sponges and the waste of the anthill, aiming to ascertain the potential contribution of this activity to the cycling of nutrients in the soil. (AU)

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