Abandonment of crop lands leads to different recovery patterns for ant and plant communities in Eastern Europe
Significant proportion of crop lands have been abandoned as management strategies have changed in Central and Eastern Europe in the past decades. The study of insect versus plant communities in such areas could help us understand how these processes take place, and whether these communities return to a semi-natural state maintained by human activities. Amongst insects ants, as ecosystem engineers, are a perfect target group in this respect. We studied epigaeic ant and plant communities of abandoned old-fields in Romania. Contrary to our expectations, the total number of ant species did not increase with time during succession on old-fields contrary to plants, where an increase was registered in the total number. Disturbancetolerant ant species dominated the ant communities throughout the successional gradient, while in the case of plants a transition was found from weed-dominated to semi-natural communities. The diversity of both ant and plant communities increased after the 1-year stage, but the patterns were different. While a return to semi-natural state could be observed in plants during old-field succession, such a definite change did not occur in ants. This might be caused by the landscape context: the lack of connectivity of old-fields to larger natural areas. While plant propagules of semi-natural and natural habitat species can still successfully colonize the old fields even under such conditions, ant colonizers are mainly disturbance-tolerant species typical for agricultural areas, which can be hardly replaced by typical grassland species. Our findings underline the existence of important discrepancies between plant and ant community succession, mostly treated as paralleling each other. This is the first study to handle the effect of abandonment on ant and plant communities simultaneously in Eastern Europe.
KeywordsConservation policies Disturbance Diversity Insects Land use strategies Restoration Succession Traditional management Vegetation structure
NomenclatureSeifert (2007) for ants Tutin et al. (1964–1980) for vascular plants
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