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Habitat and Grazing Influence on Terrestrial Ants in Subtropical Grasslands and Savannas of Argentina

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Luis A. Calcaterra, Sonia M. Cabrera, Fabiana Cuezzo, Ignacio Jiménez Peréz, Juan A. Briano
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1603/AN09173 635-646 First published online: 1 July 2010

Abstract

The maintenance of species diversity in modified and natural habitats is a central focus of conservation biology. The Iberá Nature Reserve (INR) protects highly diverse ecosystems in northeastern Argentina, including one of the largest freshwater wetlands in South America. Livestock grazing is one of the major disturbances to these ecosystems; however, its effect on ant diversity is poorly known. The objective of this work was to study the effect of savanna versus grassland and grazing on the structure and composition of subtropical terrestrial ants focusing on the particular response of the native red imported fire ant, Solenopsis invicta Buren. Unbaited pitfall traps were used to capture worker ants in 25 grazed and 20 nongrazed sites. Fifty ant species were collected. The savanna showed more species, individuals, biomass, and functional groups of ants than the grassland. S. invicta was the most frequently captured (61.4%) and numerically dominant species; however Camponotus punctulatus punctulatus Mayr showed the highest biomass. Grazing simplified vegetation structure in both habitats, but its impact on vegetation seemed only to promote a higher total biomass especially in the grassland, and/or functional groups, favoring occurrence of hot-climate specialists in the savanna. This study revealed that habitat type strongly affected the organization of the terrestrial ant assemblages at the INR. However, as in other studies, we did not find clear evidence that habitat modification by grazing significantly affected terrestrial ant assemblages. The weak grazing influence could be the consequence of the short enclosure time as to recover the original ant communities, the differential response of ant species to habitat type, and/or the resilience of ants.

  • richness
  • species composition
  • disturbance
  • vegetation structure
  • Solenopsis invicta

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