Influence of small-scale disturbances by kangaroo rats on Chihuahuan Desert ants
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- Schooley, R., Bestelmeyer, B. & Kelly, J. Oecologia (2000) 125: 142. doi:10.1007/PL00008885
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Banner-tailed kangaroo rats (Dipodomys spectabilis) are prominent ecosystem engineers that build large mounds that influence the spatial structuring of fungi, plants, and some ground-dwelling animals. Ants are diverse and functionally important components of arid ecosystems; some species are also ecosystem engineers. We investigated the effects of patch disturbances created by D. spectabilis mounds on ant assemblages in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland in southern New Mexico by using pitfall traps in a paired design (mound vs. matrix). Although the disturbances did not alter species richness or harbor unique ant communities relative to the matrix, they did alter species composition; the abundances of 6 of 26 species were affected. The disturbances might also act to disrupt spatial patterning of ants caused by other environmental gradients. In contrast to previous investigations of larger-scale disturbances, we detected no effects of the disturbances on ants at the functional-group level. Whether ant communities respond to disturbance at a functional-group or within-functional-group level may depend on the size and intensity of the disturbance. Useful functional-group schemes also may be scale-dependent, however, or species may respond idiosyncratically. Interactions between disturbance-generating mammals and ants may produce a nested spatial structure of patches.