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Can reforested and plantation habitats effectively conserve SW China’s ant biodiversity?

Lu, Zhixing, Hoffmann, Benjamin D., Chen, Youqing
Biodiversity and conservation 2016 v.25 no.4 pp. 753-770
Formicidae, deforestation, forest plantations, forests, habitats, land use, multivariate analysis, predators, reforestation, species diversity, China
China has a long history of deforestation and environmental degradation. Because China is also lacking biological reserves, off-reserve conservation is a major contributor to its conservation efforts. Off-reserve conservation in China is primarily being achieved within afforestation and low-intensity agriculture. We compare ant diversity of three habitats: Natural Forest, Disturbed Forest and Plantation, to assess the conservation potential of these multiple land uses. Natural Forest consistently had the greatest plot-level species richness of the three habitats, but this pattern was only statistically significant for arboreal ants. Functional group profiles showed that Specialist Predators were significantly more represented in Disturbed Forest, Opportunists were significantly more represented in one Plantation site, coupled with a lack of Subordinate Camponotini, and Generalised Myrmicinae were more represented in a second Plantation site coupled with a complete lack of Cryptic Species. Multivariate analysis revealed significant differences of ant species composition between habitats. Within IndVal analyses, 17 species were associated with Natural Forest and nine with Plantation. No species were associated with Disturbed Forest. Reforestation and low-intensity agriculture clearly provide habitat for many species, but will not necessarily substitute for undisturbed habitat for many other species, especially specialised species. China’s off-reserve conservation could be enhanced by developing a greater understanding of agricultural practices and reforestation techniques that promote species diversity, especially for uncommon, threatened and specialised species.