Ant reactions to habitat disruptions inform a result of evolution, according to Conco

June 04, 2019

A Concordia biology professor is calling on ant experts to develop a set of common principles that influence the way the insects respond when their habitat undergoes severe disruption.

Writing in the Journal of Animal Ecology, Jean-Philippe Lessard synthesizes the work of Alan Andersen, a leading researcher in the field of ant ecology based at Charles Darwin University in Australia.

Lessard writes that Andersen's system of grouping ant communities along certain criteria is a helpful start, particularly when it comes to how different species respond to disturbances to their environment. But much more work is needed before ant ecologists -- known formally as myrmecologists -- have an agreed-upon standard framework.

Andersen's groupings provide a base from which researchers can compare changes in the makeup of ant communities around the world. Ants are a highly diverse group of organisms: there are more than 12,000 separate species, found on all continents except Antarctica and in almost all ecosystems, from arctic taiga to arid desert. This makes them easy to sample and identify, says Lessard, and easy to monitor when measuring recovery efforts and response to disturbance.

Biogeographic and evolutionary history

He writes that comparing those responses offers several important insights. For instance, all ant communities around the globe react strongly to habitat openness, or how much vegetation covers the ground, regardless of how that openness comes about.

"Ant communities will not respond so differently to a fire versus the cutting down of a forest versus an outbreak of herbivores eating up biomass," explains Lessard, Concordia University Research Chair in Biodiversity and Ecosystem Functioning.

"They will respond to the openness that these create. It doesn't matter what the actual source of the disturbance is, what matters is whether the canopy is open or closed."

He notes that ant communities' response to disturbance can also be quite heterogeneous. An ant community in the Brazilian savanna, for instance, will react differently to a change in its ecosystem than a colony in the Australian savanna.

This is thanks to millions of years of biogeographic and evolutionary history. Most ant communities in Brazil are evolutionarily adapted to forest habitats, and so the loss of canopy to events like forest fires will have a greater effect on them than a similar event would have on a species adapted to the hot, dry Australian ecosystem.

As Lessard writes, these findings show that their presence over the eons of so-called deep time "has left a signature on contemporary structure of ant communities."

Toward a common framework

As useful and interesting as he finds them, however, Lessard believes Andersen's functional groupings are at least somewhat arbitrary.

"If someone else decided which ants would belong to which groups, how meaningful would that be?" he asks.

Without an existing common framework, ant ecologists are "out of sync" in what functional traits they measure to assess the consequences of man-made disturbances, he argues.

"If someone is trying to measure one trait and someone else is measuring a different trait, we'll never be able to compare how they might facilitate or prevent extinction in the face of a disturbance," Lessard says.

"In the ant world, we really don't have much widespread agreement on which traits would be most useful when it comes to measuring how communities respond to disturbance and understanding the fundamental process of how species come together in one place."
-end-


Concordia University

Related Forest Fires Articles from Brightsurf:

Climate shift, forest loss and fires -- Scientists explain how Amazon forest is trapped in a vicious circle
A new study, published in Global Change Biology, showed how the fire expansion is attributed to climate regime shift and forest loss.

Self-powered alarm fights forest fires, monitors environment
Scientists designed and fabricated a remote forest fire detection and alarm system powered by nothing but the movement of the trees in the wind.

Self-powered 'paper chips' could help sound an early alarm for forest fires
Recent devastating fires in the Amazon rain forest and the Australian bush highlight the need to detect forest fires at early stages, before they blaze out of control.

Smaller tropical forest fragments vanish faster than larger forest blocks
In one of the first studies to explicitly account for fragmentation in tropical forests, researchers report that smaller fragments of old-growth forests and protected areas experienced greater losses than larger fragments, between 2001 and 2018.

Diversifying traditional forest management to protect forest arthropods
The structure of vegetation and steam distance are important factors to consider in order to protect the biodiversity of forest arthropods, as stated in an article now published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.

Setting fires to avoid fires
Despite having proven effective at reducing wildfire risks, prescribed burns have been stymied by perceived and real risks, regulations and resource shortages.

Boreal forest fires could release deep soil carbon
Increasingly frequent and severe forest fires could burn generations-old carbon stored in the soils of boreal forests, according to results from the Arctic-Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE) funded by NASA's Earth Science Division.

Computer program designed to calculate the economic impact of forest fires
Visual Seveif software measures the economic impact of a fire, taking into account both material resources and their utility for leisure and recreation, the landscape's value and, now, carbon fixation.

Forest fires accelerating snowmelt across western US, study finds
Forest fires are causing snow to melt earlier in the season, a trend occurring across the western US that may affect water supplies and trigger even more fires, according to a new study by a team of researchers at Portland State University (PSU) , the Desert Research Institute (DRI), and the University of Nevada, Reno.

UM researchers study Alaska forest fires over past 450 years
In a recent study, University of Montana researchers explored the ways forest succession and climate variability interacted and influenced fires in Alaska's boreal forests over the past four centuries -- from 1550 to 2015.

Read More: Forest Fires News and Forest Fires Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.