Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 883–897 | Cite as

Is livestock grazing compatible with biodiversity conservation? Impacts on savanna ant communities in the Australian seasonal tropics

  • Gabriela B. ArcoverdeEmail author
  • Alan N. Andersen
  • Samantha A. Setterfield
Original Paper


Grazing by domestic livestock is one of the most widespread forms of anthropogenic disturbance globally, and can have a major impact on biodiversity and therefore conservation values. Here we use ants to assess the extent to which livestock grazing is compatible with biodiversity conservation in a tropical savanna of northern Australia, where there is growing pressure to intensify pastoral production. We focus on the extent to which ant responses conform with four general patterns identified in a recent global review: (1) soil and vegetation type have a far bigger impact on ant community composition than does grazing; (2) grazing modifies ant species composition but often not species richness or total abundance; (3) a species’ response often varies among habitats; and (4) between 25–50% of the species that can be statistically analysed are responsive to grazing. We sampled ants using pitfall traps at 38 sites in two land systems, based on cross-fence comparisons of areas of different grazing intensities. A total of 130 ant species from 24 genera were recorded, with the fauna dominated by species of Iridomyrmex and Monomorium. Land system was the primary driver of variation in ant species richness and composition, and grazing intensity was related to neither species richness nor total abundance. Only 10% of common species appeared to be impacted by grazing. Overall, ant responses to grazing in our study region were generally consistent with the four global patterns, except that the local fauna seems to be particularly resilient. Such resilience indicates that current grazing management practices are compatible with the conservation of ant biodiversity.


Biodiversity conservation Disturbance Functional groups Semi-arid tropics Cross-fence comparison 



We thank property managers Garry and Michelle Riggs for allowing the research to be conducted on their property, and for being such supportive hosts. We also thank Leigh Hunt for advice on classifying the sites in relation to grazing intensity, Jodie Hayward, Asier Zabaleta, Julie Louvrie, Charlotte Bigard and Alex Cussonneau for field and laboratory assistance, Ben Hoffmann and Leigh Hunt for their constructive comments on the manuscript and Keith McGuinness and Mirjam Kaestli for statistical advice. GBA received funding support from the Brazilian program Science without Borders from CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico), process number 236918/2012-5. This study was also supported by Charles Darwin University and CSIRO.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

10531_2016_1277_MOESM1_ESM.docx (40 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 39 kb)
10531_2016_1277_MOESM2_ESM.doc (216 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOC 215 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gabriela B. Arcoverde
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Alan N. Andersen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Samantha A. Setterfield
    • 1
    • 3
  1. 1.Research Institute for the Environment and LivelihoodsCharles Darwin UniversityDarwinAustralia
  2. 2.CSIRO Land and Water, Tropical Ecosystems Research CentreWinnellieAustralia
  3. 3.School of Earth and Environmental, University of Western AustraliaPerthAustralia

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