Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 48, Issue 2, pp 227–233 | Cite as

Do long-lived ants affect soil microbial communities?

  • Walter G. Whitford
  • Orit Ginzburg
  • Naama Berg
  • Yosef SteinbergerEmail author
Original Paper


This study was designed to test the hypothesis that desert ant species that build nests that remain viable at a particular point in space for more than a decade produce soil conditions that enhance microbial biomass and functional diversity. We studied the effects of a seed-harvester ant, Pogonomyrmex rugosus, and two generalist ant species, Aphaenogaster cockerelli and Myrmecocystus depilis, on soil microbial communities. Microbial biomass was higher in P. rugosus-modified soils than in reference soils when soil water content was higher than 3%. Microbial biomass was either higher in reference soils or exhibited no difference in reference soils and nest-modified soils of A. cockerelli and M. depilis. There were differences in microbial functional diversity and microbial community level physiological profiles (MicroResp method) between ant-nest-modified and reference soils of the three ant species on some sampling dates. Temporal patterns of soil microbial communities associated with the ant species resulted from differences in soil moisture, density, and species composition of the annual plant communities associated with the ant nests and in reference areas. Differences in annual plant communities associated with ant nests and surrounding areas resulted in different chemical inputs into the soil organic-matter pools. This study shows that generalizations about the effects of long-lived ant nests on soil biota in arid regions must consider feeding behaviors of the ant species and temporal patterns of rainfall.


Aphaenogaster cockerelli Climate Community-level physiological profile (CLPP) Functional diversity Microbial biomass MicroResp method Myrmecocystus depilis Pogonomyrmex rugosus 



Many thanks to Ms. S. Victor for her useful comments and help. This research was supported by Grant number Y410375-04R-22 from the International Arid Lands Consortium and is a contribution to the Jornada Long-Term Ecological Research Program.

We hereby declare that there is no conflict of interest related to this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Walter G. Whitford
    • 1
  • Orit Ginzburg
    • 2
  • Naama Berg
    • 2
  • Yosef Steinberger
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range, MSC 3JERNew Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  2. 2.The Mina and Everard Goodman Faculty of Life SciencesBar-Ilan UniversityRamat-GanIsrael

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