Availability of food and nesting-sites as regulatory mechanisms for the recovery of ant diversity after fire disturbance
Keywords:limiting resources, ant nest, competition, Cerrado, environmental disturbance
Nest-site is an important resource for cavity-nesting ants, what limits colony establishment and structures ant community composition through competition. In ecosystems frequently disturbed by firecontinuous establishment of new colonies is crucial to the process of natural succession. Based on this perspective, we tested the hypothesis that fire reduces the amount of cavities for nesting (e.g., hollow branches, dry leaves curled, and galls), with negative impact on ant biodiversity. We searched for natural cavities and added artificial-nests to assess whether the occupancy rate and its consequences for colony growth. We also evaluated the availability of food sources for ants (EFN plants, honeydew-hemipterans and preys). We found that burned areas had less diverse and structurally simple vegetation. The occupation of natural and artificial nests was the same between the areas, but the reduced availability of nesting-sites in the burned area indicates higher limitation after the fire. This effect was even stronger in foliage habitat compared to the ground. In fact, most of the 11 cavity-nesting species found were typically arboreal. Species richness was lower in burned area, possibly due to lower nesting-sites availability, but the abundance was higher, which may be explained by the greater availability of food resources, mainly EFN-bearing plants. The high food availability may also explain the bigger colony size in burned area, since nectar and honeydew boosts colony growth and low richness prevents competition. In summary, our results show that changes in the availability of nesting sites and food resources may be key mechanisms by which fire changes the ant fauna, specifically cavity-nesting ants in the Brazilian Savanna.
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