, Volume 22, Issue 10, pp 2305-2320
Date: 09 Feb 2013

Shrub encroachment alters composition and diversity of ant communities in abandoned grasslands of western Carpathians

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Invasions of woody species into grasslands abandoned by agriculture are a global phenomenon, but their effects on diversity of other taxa have been rarely investigated across both regional and local scales. We quantified how shrub encroachment affected the activity, composition, and diversity of ant communities in managed and abandoned grasslands in western Carpathians of Central Europe across four regions and four shrub encroachment stages in each region. We surveyed ant communities on 48 sites in total, with each encroachment stage replicated three times in each region and twelve times overall. We used pitfall traps to sample ants over three years (2008, 2009, 2011) and identified 9,254 ant workers belonging to 33 species in total. Although the epigaeic activity and composition of ant communities varied with region, abandoned grasslands supported a greater species richness of ants than managed grasslands regardless of the region, and especially so in more advanced shrub encroachment stages. Since the woody colonization within grasslands was moderate even in the advanced encroachment stages (on average ~40 % of grassland colonized by woody species), it allowed coexistence of forest specialists (e.g. Temnothorax crassispinus) with species typical of open grasslands, thus increasing overall ant diversity. Managed grasslands were not only less species rich compared to abandoned grasslands, but they were characterized by different species (e.g. Lasius niger, Myrmica rugulosa). The differences in ant communities between managed and abandoned grasslands are likely to cause differences in ecological functions mediated by ants (e.g. predation of arthropods or plant seed dispersal).