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Ant community patterns in highly fragmented Chaco forests of central Argentina

Pereyra, Mariana, Pol, Rodrigo G., Galetto, Leonardo
Austral ecology 2019 v.44 no.4 pp. 668-679
Formicidae, dry forests, ecological footprint, ecosystems, edge effects, habitat fragmentation, intensive farming, land use change, pitfall traps, social insects, species richness, Argentina
The Chaco is the largest dry forest biome in South America and one of the regions most threatened by agricultural intensification. As a consequence, in several areas Chaco forests persist as forest remnants of different sizes embedded in an agricultural matrix. Ants are social insects that have key roles in ecosystem functioning, and the effects of this ongoing land use change process on ant communities are little known for this region. In the present study, we assessed the consequences of land use replacement by monocultures and forest fragmentation on ant communities. Particularly, we assessed whether patch size, patch isolation and edge effect affect species richness and composition of ground‐dwelling ants in fragmented landscapes of Chaco forests. We collected ants by combining hand collecting and pitfall traps in 17 forest fragments and the surrounding matrix from two sites in Córdoba, Argentina. Patch size and patch isolation had no effect on ant richness; however, patch isolation and, to a lesser extent, patch size altered ant species composition. The ant community was not affected by edge but it was negatively affected by the crop matrix, which reduced richness and altered species composition. These results indicate that monoculture matrices severely affect ant communities in the Chaco forests, and that the effects of other indicators of habitat fragmentation (patch size and edge effect) are subtler and less relevant. In the present context of land use change, even small fragments could have an important value for the conservation of ant diversity.