The importance of remnants of natural vegetation for maintaining ant diversity in Brazilian agricultural landscapes
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Brazil is one of the leading producers of soybeans and other annual crops, and in several regions landowners are required by law to maintain 20 % of their lands with natural vegetation (i.e. as “legal reserves”). However, there is a growing concern that some of these reserves will be subject to increased levels of disturbance or even be lost as a result of the ongoing legislation reforms. In this sense, studies that evaluate the conservation potential of retaining natural habitats within agricultural areas are of great importance. We assessed the efficiency with which remnants of natural vegetation conserve the native ant fauna in a context of intensive agriculture. We compared the structure of ground-dwelling ant assemblages between crop fields and reserves located in different farms. Ant species richness was much higher in the reserves than in the crops, and this pattern was consistent in spite of variations in the type of crop planted in each field, and in the size (39–149 ha) and vegetation (open or closed savanna) of the reserves. From 41.4 to 76.4 % of all species recorded within each farm were exclusively found in the reserves. Differences in species composition were strong not only because the reserves had much more species, but also because the species that were present in both habitats showed contrasting patterns of abundance in each habitat. Overall, our results highlight that even small remnants of natural vegetation can have a significant potential to maintain a higher diversity of ants within an agriculturally dominated landscape.