Human forest modification is among the largest global drivers of terrestrial degradation
of biodiversity, species interactions, and ecosystem functioning. One of the most
pertinent components, forest fragmentation, has a long history in ecological research
across the globe, particularly in lower latitudes. However, we still know little how
fragmentation shapes temperate ecosystems, irrespective of the ancient status quo of
European deforestation. Furthermore, its interaction with another pivotal component
of European forests, silvicultural management, are practically unexplored. Hence,
answering the question how anthropogenic modification of temperate forests affects
fundamental components of forest ecosystems is essential basic research that has
been neglected thus far. Most basal ecosystem elements are plants and their insect
herbivores, as they form the energetic basis of the tropic pyramid. Furthermore, their
respective biodiversity, functional traits, and the networks of interactions they
establish are key for a multitude of ecosystem functions, not least ecosystem stability.
Hence, the thesis at hand aimed to disentangle this complex system of
interdependencies of human impacts, biodiversity, species traits and inter-species
The first step lay in understanding how woody plant assemblages are shaped by
human forest modification. For this purpose, field investigations in 57 plots in the
hyperfragmented cultural landscape of the Northern Palatinate highlands (SW
Germany) were conducted, censusing > 4,000 tree/shrub individuals from 34 species.
Use of novel, integrative indices for different types of land-use allowed an accurate
quantification of biotic responses. Intriguingly, woody tree/shrub communities reacted
strikingly positive to forest fragmentation, with increases in alpha and beta diversity,
as well as proliferation of heat/drought/light adapted pioneer species. Contrarily,
managed interior forests were homogenized/constrained in biodiversity, with
dominance of shade/cold adapted commercial tree species. Comparisons with recently
unmanaged stands (> 40 a) revealed first indications for nascent conversion to oldgrowth
conditions, with larger variability in light conditions and subsequent
community composition. Reactions to microclimatic conditions, the relationship
between associated species traits and the corresponding species pool, as well as
facilitative/constraining effects by foresters were discussed as underlying mechanisms.
Reactions of herbivore assemblages to forest fragmentation and the subsequent
changes in host plant communities were assessed by comprehensive sampling of >
1,000 live herbivores from 134 species in the forest understory. Diversity was –
similarly to plant communities - higher in fragmentation affected habitats, particularly
in edges of continuous control forests. Furthermore, average trophic specialization
showed an identical pattern. Mechanistically, benefits from microclimatic conditions,
host availability, as well as pronounced niche differentiation are deemed responsible.
While communities were heterogeneous, with no segregation across habitats, (smallforest fragments, edges, and interior of control forests), vegetation diversity, herbivore
diversity, as well as trophic specialization were identified to shape community
composition. This probably reflected a gradient from generalistic/species poor vs.
specialist/species rich herbivore assemblages.
Insect studies conducted in forest systems are doomed to incompleteness
without considering ‘the last biological frontier’, the tree canopies. To access their
biodiversity, relationship to edge effects, and their conservational value, the
arboricolous arthropod fauna of 24 beech (Fagus sylvatica) canopies was sampled via
insecticidal knockdown (‘fogging’). This resulted in an exhaustive collection of > 46,000
specimens from 24 major taxonomic/functional groups. Abundance distributions were
markedly negative exponential, indicating high abundance variability in tree crowns.
Individuals of six pertinent orders were identified to species level, returning > 3,100
individuals from 175 species and 52 families. This high diversity did marginally differ
across habitats, with slightly higher species richness in edge canopies. However,
communities in edge crowns were noticeably more heterogeneous than those in the
forest interior, possibly due to higher variability in environmental edge conditions. In
total, 49 species with protective value were identified, of which only one showed
habitat preferences (for near-natural interior forests). Among them, six species (all
beetles, Coleoptera) were classified as ‘priority species’ for conservation efforts. Hence,
beech canopies of the Northern Palatinate highlands can be considered strongholds of
insect biodiversity, incorporating many species of particular protective value.
The intricacy of plant-herbivore interaction networks and their relationship to
forest fragmentation is largely unexplored, particularly in Central Europe. Illumination
of this matter is all the more important, as ecological networks are highly relevant for
ecosystem stability, particularly in the face of additional anthropogenic disturbances,
such as climate change. Hence, plant-herbivore interaction networks (PHNs) were
constructed from woody plants and their associated herbivores, sampled alive in the
understory. Herbivory verification was achieved using no-choice-feeding assays, as well
as literature references. In total, networks across small forest fragments, edges, and
the forest interior consisted of 696 interactions. Network complexity and trophic niche
redundancy were compared across habitats using a rarefaction-like resampling
procedure. PHNs in fragmentation affected forest habitats were significantly more
complex, as well as more redundant in their realized niches, despite being composed of
relatively more specialist species. Furthermore, network robustness to climate change
was quantified utilizing four different scenarios for climate change susceptibility of
involved plants. In this procedure, remaining herbivores in the network were measured
upon successive loss of their host plant species. Consistently, PHNs in edges (and to a
smaller degree in small fragments) withstood primary extinction of plant species
longer, making them more robust. This was attributed to the high prevalence of
heat/drought-adapted species, as well as to beneficial effects of network topography
(complexity and redundancy). Consequently, strong correlative relationships were
found between realized niche redundancy and climate change robustness of PHNs.
This was both the first time that biologically realistic extinctions (instead of e.g.random extinctions) were used to measure network robustness, and that topographical
network parameters were identified as potential indicators for network robustness
against climate change.
In synthesis, in the light of global biotic degradation due to human forest
modification, the necessity to differentiate must be claimed. Ecosystems react
differently to anthropogenic disturbances, and it seems the particular features present
in Central European forests (ancient deforestation, extensive management, and, most
importantly, high richness in open-forest plant species) cause partly opposed patterns
to other biomes. Lenient microclimates and diverse plant communities facilitate
equally diverse herbivore assemblages, and hence complex and robust networks,
opposed to the forest interior. Therefore, in the reality of extensively used cultural
landscapes, fragmentation affected forest ecosystems, particularly forest edges, can be
perceived as reservoir for biodiversity, and ecosystem functionality. Nevertheless, as
practically all forest habitats considered in this thesis are under human cultivation,
recommendations for ecological enhancement of all forest habitats are discussed.
Membrane proteins are generally soluble only in the presence of detergent micelles or other membrane-mimetic systems, which renders the determination of the protein’s molar mass or oligomeric state difficult. Moreover, the amount of bound detergent varies drastically among different proteins and detergents. However, the type of detergent and its concentration have a great influence on the protein’s structure, stability, and functionality and the success of structural and functional investigations and crystallographic trials. Size-exclusion chromatography, which is commonly used to determine the molar mass of water-soluble proteins, is not suitable for detergent-solubilised proteins because
the protein–detergent complex has a different conformation and, thus, commonly exhibits
a different migration behaviour than globular standard proteins. Thus, calibration curves obtained with standard proteins are not useful for membrane-protein analysis. However,
the combination of size-exclusion chromatography with ultraviolet absorbance, static light scattering, and refractive index detection provides a tool to determine the molar mass of protein–detergent complexes in an absolute manner and allows for distinguishing the contributions of detergent and protein to the complex.
The goal of this thesis was to refine the standard triple-detection size-exclusion chromatography measurement and data analysis procedure for challenging membrane-protein samples, non-standard detergents, and difficult solvents such as concentrated denaturant solutions that were thought to elude routine approaches. To this end, the influence of urea on the performance of the method beyond direct influences on detergents and proteins was investigated with the help of the water-soluble bovine serum albumin. On the basis of
the obtained results, measurement and data analysis procedures were refined for different detergents and protein–detergent complexes comprising the membrane proteins OmpLA and Mistic from Escherichia coli and Bacillus subtilis, respectively.
The investigations on mass and shape of different detergent micelles and the compositions of protein–detergent complexes in aqueous buffer and concentrated urea solutions
showed that triple-detection size-exclusion chromatography provides valuable information
about micelle masses and shapes under various conditions. Moreover, it is perfectly suited for the straightforward analysis of detergent-suspended proteins in terms of composition and oligomeric state not only under native but, more importantly, also under denaturing conditions.
Cells and organelles are enclosed by membranes that consist of a lipid bilayer harboring highly
diverse membrane proteins (MPs). These carry out vital functions, and α-helical MPs, in
particular, are of outstanding pharmacological importance, as they comprise more than half of
all drug targets. However, knowledge from MP research is limited, as MPs require membranemimetic
environments to retain their native structures and functions and, thus, are not readily
amenable to in vitro studies. To gain insight into vectorial functions, as in the case of channels
and transporters, and into topology, which describes MP conformation and orientation in the
context of a membrane, purified MPs need to be reconstituted, that is, transferred from detergent
micelles into a lipid-bilayer system.
The ultimate goal of this thesis was to elucidate the membrane topology of Mistic, which is
an essential regulator of biofilm formation in Bacillus subtilis consisting of four α-helices. The
conformational stability of Mistic has been shown to depend on the presence of a hydrophobic
environment. However, Mistic is characterized by an uncommonly hydrophilic surface, and
its helices are significantly shorter than transmembrane helices of canonical integral MPs.
Therefore, the means by which its association with the hydrophobic interior of a lipid bilayer
is accomplished is a subject of much debate. To tackle this issue, Mistic was produced and
purified, reconstituted, and subjected to topological studies.
Reconstitution of Mistic in the presence of lipids was performed by lowering the detergent
concentration to subsolubilizing concentrations via addition of cyclodextrin. To fully exploit
the advantages offered by cyclodextrin-mediated detergent removal, a quantitative model was
established that describes the supramolecular state of the reconstitution mixture and allows
for the prediction of reconstitution trajectories and their cross points with phase boundaries.
Automated titrations enabled spectroscopic monitoring of Mistic reconstitutions in real time.
On the basis of the established reconstitution protocol, the membrane topology of Mistic was
investigated with the aid of fluorescence quenching experiments and oriented circular dichroism
spectroscopy. The results of these experiments reveal that Mistic appears to be an exception
from the commonly observed transmembrane orientation of α-helical MPs, since it exhibits
a highly unusual in-plane topology, which goes in line with recent coarse-grained molecular
The heart is reported to show a net consumption of lactate. This may contribute up to 15% to the total body lactate disposal. In this work, the consumption of lactate was shown for the first
time on the single cell level with the new FRET-based lactate sensor Laconic.
Research published until today, almost exclusively reports the monocarboxylate transporter 1
(MCT1) as the transporter responsible for myocardial lactate uptake. As this membrane
transporter transports lactate together with H+ in a stoichiometry of 1:1, lactate transport is
coupled to pH regulation. Consequently, interactions of MCT1 and acid/base regulating proteins
(carbonic anhydrases (CAs and sodium bicarbonate co-transporters (NBCs)) are described in
the oocyte expression system, skeletal muscle and cancer cells.
In this work it is shown that activity of extracellular CA increases lactate uptake into mouse
cardiomyocytes by 27% and lactate induced JA/B by 42.8% to 46.2%. This effect is most likely
mediated via NBC/CA interaction because inhibition of extracellular CA reduces HCO3--
dependent acid extruding JA/B by 53.3% to 78.4%. This may link lactate uptake to cellular
respiration. When lactate was applied in medium gassed with 100% N2, lactate induced
acidification was 12.6% faster than in medium gassed with 100% O2. Thus, CO2 produced on
the pathway transferring redox energy from substrates like glucose and lactate to ADP and
phosphate via oxidative phosphorylation, may support further lactate uptake. The findings of
this work suggest an auto regulation of lactate uptake via CO2 release in ventricular mouse
Cyanobacteria are the only prokaryotes with the ability to conduct oxygenic photosynthesis,
therefore having major influence on the evolution of life on earth. Their diverse morphology
was traditionally the basis for taxonomy and classification. For example, the genus
Chroococcidiopsis has been classified within the order Pleurocapsales, based on a unique
reproduction modus by baeocytes. Recent phylogenetic results suggested a closer
relationship of this genus to the order Nostocales. However, these studies were based
mostly on the highly conserved 16S rRNA and a small selection of Chroococcidiopsis
strains. One aim of this present thesis was to investigate the evolutionary relationships of
the genus Chroococcidiopsis, the Pleurocapsales and remaining cyanobacteria using
16S rRNA, rpoC1 and gyrB gene. Including the single gene, as the multigene analyses of
97 strains clearly showed a separation of the genus Chroococcidiopsis from the
Pleurocapsales. Furthermore, a sister relationship between the genus Chroococcidiopsis
and the order Nostocales was confirmed. Consequently, the monogeneric family
Chroococcidiopsidaceae Geitler ex. Büdel, Donner & Kauff familia nova is justified. The
phylogenetic analyses also revealed the polyphyly of the remaining Pleurocapsales, due to
the fact that the strain Pleurocapsa PCC 7327 was always separated from other strains.
This is supported by differences in their metabolism, ecology and physiology.
A second aim of this study was to investigate the thylakoid arrangement of
Chroococcidiopsis and a selection of cyanobacterial strains. The investigation of 13 strains
with Low Temperature Scanning Electron Microscopy revealed two unknown thylakoidal
arrangements within Chroococcidiopsis (parietal and stacked). This result revised the
knowledge of the thylakoid arrangement in this genus. Previously, only a coiled
arrangement was known for three strains. Based on the data of 66 strains, the feature
thylakoid arrangement was tested as a potential feature for morphological identification of
cyanobacteria. The results showed a strong relationship between the group assignment of
cyanobacteria and their thylakoid arrangements. Hence, it is in general possible to
conclude from this certain phenotypic character the affiliation to a particular family, order
The third aim of this study was to investigate biogeographical patterns of the worldwide
distributed genus Chroococcidiopsis. The phylogenetic analysis suggested that the genus do not have biogeographical patterns, which is in contrast with a recent study on hypolithic
living Chroococcidiopsis strains and the majority of phylogeographic analysis of
microorganisms. Further analysis showed no separation of different life-strategies within
the genus. These results could be related to the genetic markers utilized, which may not
contain biogeographical information. Hence the present study can neither exclude nor
prove the possibility of biogeographic and life-strategy patterns in the genus
Future research should be focused on finding appropriate genetic markers investigate of
evolutionary relationships and biogeographical patterns within Chroococcidiopsis.
Proteins of the intermembrane space of mitochondria are generally encoded by nuclear genes that are synthesized in the cytosol. A group of small intermembrane space proteins lack classical mitochondrial targeting sequences, but these proteins are imported in an oxidation-driven reaction that relies on the activity of two components, Mia40 and Erv1. Both proteins constitute the mitochondrial disulfide relay system. Mia40 functions as an import receptor that interacts with incoming polypeptides via transient, intermolecular disulfide bonds. Erv1 is an FAD-binding sulfhydryl oxidase that activates Mia40 by re-oxidation, but the process how Erv1 itself is re-oxidized has been poorly understood. Here, I show that Erv1 interacts with cytochrome c which provides a functional link between the mitochondrial disulfide relay system and the respiratory chain. This mechanism not only increases the efficiency of mitochondrial inport by the re-oxidation of Erv1 and Mia40 but also prevents the formation of deleterious hydrogen peroxide within the intermembrane space. Thus, the miochondrial disulfide relay system is, analogous to that of the bacterial periplasm, connected to the electron transport chain of the inner membrane, which possibly allows an oxygen-dependend regulation of mitochondrial import rates. In addition, I modeled the structure of Erv1 on the basis of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae Erv2 crystal structure in order to gain insight into the molecular mechanism of Erv1. According to the high degree of sequence homologies, various characteristics found for Erv2 are also valid for Erv1. Finally, I propose a regulatory function of the disulfide relay system on the respiratory chain. The disulfide relay system senses the molecular oxygen levels in mitochondria and, thus, is able to adapt respiratory chain activity in order to prevent wastage of NADH and production of ROS.
Prostate cancer preferentially metastasizes to the skeleton and abundant evidence exists that osteoblasts specifically support the metastatic process, including cancer stem cell niche formation. At early stages of bone metastasis, crosstalk of prostate cancer cells and osteoblasts through soluble molecules results in a decrease of cancer cell proliferation, accompanied by altered adhesive properties and increased expression of bone-specific genes, or osteomimicry. Osteoblasts synthesize a plethora of biologically active factors, which comprise the unique bone microenvironment. By means of quantitative real-time RT-PCR it was determined that exposure to the osteoblast secretome induced gene expression changes in prostate cancer cells, including the upregulation of osteomimetic genes such as BMP2, AP, COL1A1, OPG and RANKL. IL6 and TGFbeta1 signaling pathway components also became upregulated at early time points. Moreover, osteoblast-released IL6 and TGFbeta1 contributed to the upregulation of OPG mRNA in LNCaP. Thus, the earliest response of prostate cancer cells to osteoblast-released factors, which ultimately cause metastatic cells to assume an osteomimetic phenotype, involved activation of paracrine and autocrine IL6 and TGFbeta signaling. On the other hand, a microarray analysis showed that osteoblasts exposed to the secretome of prostate cancer cells exhibited gene expression alterations suggestive of repressed proliferation, decreased matrix synthesis and inhibited immune response, which together indicate enhanced preosteocytic differentiation. TGFbeta signaling, known to inhibit osteoblast maturation, was strongly suppressed, as shown by elevated expression of negative regulators, downregulation of pathway components and of numerous target genes. Transcriptional downregulation of osteoblast inhibitory molecules such as DKK1 and FST also occurred, with concomitant upregulation of the osteoinductive molecules ADM, STC1 and BMP2, and of the transcription factors CBFA1 and HES1, which promote osteoblast differentiation. Finally, the mRNA encoding NPPB, the precursor of a molecule implicated in the inhibition of TGFbetaeffects, in bone formation and in stem cell maintenance, became upregulated after coculture both in osteoblasts and in prostate cancer cells. These results provide an insight into potential mechanisms of dysregulated bone formation in metastatic prostate cancer, as well as mechanisms by which osteoblasts might enhance the invasive, osteomimetic and stem cell-like properties of the tumor cells. In particular, the differential modulation of TGFbetasignaling in prostate cancer cells and osteoblasts appears to merit further research.
In my doctoral thesis, I present new information about the developmental expression pattern of the potassium chloride cotransporter KCC2 in the rat auditory brain stem and the morphometrical effects caused by KCC2 gene silencing in mice. The thesis is divided into 3 Chapters. Chapter 1 is a general introduction which gives a brief outline of the primary ascending auditory pathway in mammals. Also, it provides information about the presence of a large number of inhibitory inputs in the auditory system and how these inputs develop; the involvement of inhibition in the acoustic processing is mentioned. In addition, the role of the KCC2 cotransporter in the shift of GABA/glycine transmission, and thus, in maintaining the normal level of inhibition in the mature brain, is described. The focus of Chapter 2 was to investigate the KCC2 immunofluorescent signal from postnatal day (P) 0 to P60 in four major nuclei of the rats superior olivary complex (SOC), namely the medial nucleus of the trapezoid body (MNTB), the medial superior olive (MSO), the lateral superior olive (LSO), and the superior paraolivary nucleus (SPN). The lack of a correlation between the continuous presence of KCC2 mRNA/protein in the postnatal rat brain stem on one side, and the shift in GABA/glycinergic polarity (i.e. KCC2 functionality) on the other side, prompted me to search for a specific cellular expression pattern of the KCC2 protein that might correlate with the switch in GABA/glycine signalling. To do so, the KCC2 immunoreactivity was analysed using high-resolution confocal microscopy in three cellular regions of interest: the soma surface, the soma interior, and the neuropil. In the soma surface, I observed an increase of the KCC2 immunofluorescent signal intensity, yet with a moderate magnitude (1.1 to 1.6-fold). Therefore, I conclude that the change in the soma surface signal is only of minor importance and does not explain the change in KCC2 functionality. The KCC2 signal intensity in the soma interior decreased in all nuclei (1.4 to 2-fold) with the exception of the MNTB where no statistically significant change was found. The decrease in the soma interior was probably related to the increase in the soma surface immunoreactivity and the proposed (weak) intracellular trafficking process of the KCC2 protein. The main developmental reorganization (in qualitative as well as in quantitative aspects) of the KCC2 immunofluorescence in the SOC nuclei was observed in the neuropil. The signal changed its pattern from a diffusely stained neuropil early in development (P0-P4) to a crisp and membrane-confined signal later on (P8-P60), with single dendrites becoming apparent. The exception was found in the MNTB, where the neuropil became almost unlabeled. Quantification revealed a statistically significant decrease (2.2 to 3.8-fold) in the neuropil immunoreactivity in all four nuclei, although the remaining KCC2-stained dendrites became thicker and the signal became stronger. I suppose that, at least in part, the neuropil reorganization can be explained by an age-related reduction of dendritic branches via a pruning mechanism and with the absence of an abnormal Cl- load via extrasynaptic GABAA receptors. This is consistent with the proposed additional role of KCC2, namely to maintain the cellular ionic homeostasis and to prevent dendritic swelling (Gulyás et al., 2001). In conclusion, neither the increase in the KCC2 soma surface signal intensity, nor the reorganization in the neuropil can be strictly related to the developmental switch in the GABA/glycine polarity and the onset of KCC2 function, although some correlation (the appearance of a specific membrane-confined dendritic pattern) between structure and function was found. Further implication of different molecular methods, regarding the proposed posttranslational modification of KCC2, will shed light upon the question of what leads to the functional activation of the cotransporter. In Chapter 3, the advantage of loss-of-function KCC2 mice made it possible, via manipulating the duration of the depolarizing phase of GABA/glycine transmission, to analyse the effect of disturbed Cl- regulation and, thus, the effect of disrupted GABA/glycine neurotransmission (lack of inhibition). I asked the following question: how important is the Cl- homeostasis to maintain general aspects (brain weight) and specific aspects (nucleus volume, neuron number, and soma cross-sectional area) of brain development? Brain stem slices from KCC2 knock-out animals (-/-), with a trace amount of transporter (~5%), as well as from wild type animals (+/+) at P3 and P12 were stained for Nissl substance and the analyses were performed with the help of basic morphometrical and stereological methods. In KCC2 (-/-) animals, body growth impairment was observed, in part related to the seizure activity preventing normal feeding (Woo et al., 2002). However, their brains, in terms of brain weight, were less affected. Therefore, I conclude that Cl- homeostasis is not essential per se to maintain the brain weight. Four auditory nuclei (MNTB, MSO, LSO, and ventral cochlear nucleus (VCN)), were compared with respect to the KCC2 null mutation. The SOC nuclei were not influenced by the lack of KCC2 at P3 considering the morphometric parameters. A difference in the number of neurons occurred in the VCN at P3. I suggest to perform additional immunohistochemical studies of glial presence related to its involvement in the structural and functional support of the neurons and their survival. At P12, the volume of the auditory nuclei in KCC2 (-/-) animals was smaller than in (+/+) animals. However, this is likely to be an epiphenomenon since the brain weight increase was also impaired with the same magnitude. Therefore, I suppose that the Cl- homeostasis is not crucial for the nucleus volume increase in the VCN, the MNTB and the MSO during development. An exception was found for the LSO. Regarding the other morphometric parameters at P12, the four nuclei behaved in a different way: (1) in the VCN, after P3, no parameter underwent a disproportional change due to impaired Cl- homeostasis; (2) the MNTB and the LSO showed less pronounced neuropil in mutants in comparison to age-matched controls and two reasons were proposed: first, the depolarizing GABA/glycine transmission in mutants may contribute to excessive Ca2+ load, excitotoxicity and dendrite damage; second, a decrease of some trophic factors may prevent dendrite development in addition to impaired normal body growth; (3) the MSO neurons in P12 (-/-) animals had smaller soma cross-sectional area than in P12 (+/+) animals. I conclude that the normal Cl- homeostasis is required in the MSO at older ages (P12) to achieve and maintain a proper soma size; (4) the lack of KCC2 did not prevent the process of neuronal differentiation in the VCN and the MNTB during development in both mutant and control animals. In conclusion, the various auditory nuclei have to be discussed independently regarding the influence of Cl- homeostasis on some morphometric parameters. Presumably, this is related to the different time of the shift in the GABA/glycine polarity i.e., the onset of KCC2 function (Srinivasan et al., 2004a). Taken together, my thesis accumulated data about the immunohistological expression pattern of KCC2 in various auditory brain stem nuclei and the influence of impaired Cl- homeostasis on some morphometric features in these nuclei. This information will be helpful for further investigations involved to discover the mechanisms and the events that govern the inhibition and the inhibitory pathway in the central auditory system.
Fragmentation of habitats, especially of tropical rainforests, ranks globally among the most pervasive man-made disturbances of ecosystems. There is growing evidence for long-term effects of forest frag-mentation and the accompanying creation of artificial edges on ecosystem functioning and forest structure, which are altered in a way that generally transforms these forests into early successional systems. Edge-induced disruption of species interactions can be among the driving mechanisms governing this transformation. These species interactions can be direct (trophic interactions, competition, etc.) or indirect (modification of the resource availability for other organisms). Such indirect interactions are called ecosystem engineering. Leaf-cutting ants of the genus Atta are dominant herbivores and keystone-species in the Neotropics and have been called ecosystem engineers. In contrast to other prominent ecosystem engineers that have been substantially decimated by human activities some species of leaf-cutting ants profit from anthropogenic landscape alterations. Thus, leaf-cutting ants are a highly suitable model to investigate the potentially cascading effects caused by herbivores and ecosystem engineers in modern anthropogenic landscapes following fragmentation. The present thesis aims to describe this interplay between consequences of forest fragmentation for leaf-cutting ants and resulting impacts of leaf-cutting ants in fragmented forests. The cumulative thesis starts out with a review of 55 published articles demonstrating that herbivores, especially generalists, profoundly benefit from forest edges, often due to (1) favourable microenviron-mental conditions, (2) an edge-induced increase in food quantity/quality, and (3; less well documented) disrupted top-down regulation of herbivores (Wirth, Meyer et al. 2008; Progress in Botany 69:423-448). Field investigations in the heavily fragmented Atlantic Forest of Northeast Brazil (Coimbra forest) were subsequently carried out to evaluate patterns and hypotheses emerging from this review using leaf-cutting ants of the genus Atta as a model system. Colony densities of both Atta species occuring in the area changed similarly with distance to the edge but the magnitude of the effect was species-specific. Colony density of A. cephalotes was low in the forest interior (0.33 ± 1.11 /ha, pooling all zones >50 m into the forest) and sharply increased by a factor of about 8.5 towards the first 50 m (2.79 ± 3.3 /ha), while A. sexdens was more uniformly distributed (Wirth, Meyer et al. 2007; Journal of Tropical Ecology 23:501-505). The accumulation of Atta colonies persisted at physically stable forest edges over a four-year interval with no significant difference in densities between years despite high rates of colony turn-over (little less than 50% in 4 years). Stable hyper-abundant populations of leaf-cutting ants accord with the constantly high availability of pioneer plants (their preferred food source) as previously demonstrated at old stabilised forest edges in the region (Meyer et al. submitted; Biotropica). In addition, plants at the forest edge might be more attractive to leaf-cutting ants because of their physiological responses to the edge environment. In bioassays with laboratory colonies I demonstrated that drought-stressed plants are more attractive to leaf-cutting ants because of an increase in leaf nutrient content induced by osmoregulation (Meyer et al. 2006; Functional Ecology 20:973-981). Since plants along forest edges are more prone to experience drought stress, this mechanism might contribute to the high resource availabil-ity for leaf-cutting ants at forest edges. In light of the hyper-abundance of leaf-cutting ants within the forest edge zone (first 50 m), their po-tentially far-reaching ecological importance in anthropogenic landscapes is apparent. Based on previous colony-level estimates, we extrapolated that herbivory by A. cephalotes removes 36% of the available foliage at forest edges (compared to 6% in the forest interior). In addition, A. cephalotes acted as ecosys-tem engineers constructing large nests (on average 55 m2: 95%-CI: 22-136) that drastically altered forest structure. The ants opened gaps in the canopy and forest understory at nest sites, which allowed three times as much light to reach the nest surface as compared to the forest understory. This was accompa-nied by an increase in soil temperatures and a reduction in water availability. Modifications of microcli-mate and forest structure greatly surpassed previously published estimates. Since higher light levels were detectable up to about 4 m away from the nest edge, an area roughly four times as big as the actual nest (about 200 and 50 m2, respectively) was impacted by every colony, amounting to roughly 6% of the total area at the forest edge (Meyer et al. in preparation; Ecology). The hypothesized impacts of high cutting pressure and microclimatic alterations at nest sites on forest regeneration were directly tested using transplanted seedlings of six species of forest trees. Nests of A. cephalotes differentially impacted survival and growth of seedlings. Survival differed highly significantly between habitats and species and was generally high in the forest, yet low on nests where it correlated strongly with seed size of the species. These results indicate that the disturbance regime created by leaf-cutting ants differs from other distur-bances, since nest conditions select for plant species that profit from additional light, yet are large-seeded and have resprouting abilities, which are best suited to tolerate repeated defoliation on a nest (Meyer et al. in preparation; Journal of Tropical Ecology). On an ecosystem scale leaf-cutting ants might amplify edge-driven microclimatic alterations by very high rates of herbivory and the maintenance of canopy gaps above frequent nests. By allowing for an increased light penetration Atta may, ultimately, contribute to a dominating, self-replacing pioneer communities at forest edges, possibly creating a positive feed-back loop. Based on the persisting hyper-abundance of leaf-cutting ants at old edges of Coimbra forest and the multifarious impacts documented, we conclude that the ecological importance of leaf-cutting ants in pristine forests, where they are commonly believed to be keystone species despite very low colony densities, is greatly surpassed in anthropogenic landscapes In fragmented forests, Atta has been identified as an essential component of a disturbance regime that causes a post-fragmentation retrogressive succession. Apparently, these forests have reached a new self-replacing secondary state. I suggest additional human interference in form of thoughtful management in order to break this cycle of self-enhancing disturbance and to enable forest regeneration along the edges of threatened forest remnants. Thereby the situation of the forest as a whole can be ameliorated and the chances for a long-term retention of biodiversity in these landscapes increased.