Effects of Grassland Management Practices on Ant Functional Groups in Central North America
Tallgrass prairies of central North America have experienced disturbances including fire and grazing for millennia. Little is known about the effects of these disturbances on prairie ants, even though ants are thought to play major roles in ecosystem maintenance. We implemented three management treatments on remnant and restored grassland tracts in the central U.S., and compared the effects of treatment on abundance of ant functional groups. Management treatments were: (1) patch-burn graze—rotational burning of three spatially distinct patches within a fenced tract, and growing-season cattle grazing; (2) graze-and-burn—burning entire tract every 3 years, and growing-season cattle grazing, and (3) burn-only—burning entire tract every 3 years, but no cattle grazing. Ant species were classified into one of four functional groups. Opportunist ants and the dominant ant species, Formica montana, were more abundant in burn-only tracts than tracts managed with either of the grazing treatments. Generalists were more abundant in graze-and-burn tracts than in burn-only tracts. Abundance of F. montana was negatively associated with pre-treatment time since fire, whereas generalist ant abundance was positively associated. F. montanawere more abundant in restored tracts than remnants, whereas the opposite was true for subdominants and opportunists. In summary, abundance of the dominant F. montana increased in response to intense disturbances that were followed by quick recovery of plant biomass. Generalist ant abundance decreased in response to those disturbances, which we attribute to the effects of competitive dominance of F. montana upon the generalists.
This is a manuscript of an article in Journal of Insect Conservation 17 (3013): 699, doi:10.1007/s10841-013-9554-z. Posted with permission.