Insectes Sociaux

, Volume 66, Issue 4, pp 623–635 | Cite as

Spatiotemporal responses of ant communities across a disturbance gradient: the role of behavioral traits

  • I. L. H. Silva
  • I. R. Leal
  • J. D. Ribeiro-Neto
  • X. ArnanEmail author
Research Article


This study examined how chronic anthropogenic disturbance impacts the spatiotemporal dynamics of ant foraging activity and the role played by behavioral traits. Ten plots (0.1 ha) along a gradient of chronic disturbance intensity were sampled in Catimbau National Park (Caatinga vegetation, Brazil). Vegetative structure, ground surface temperature, and ant communities in shaded and sun-exposed microhabitats were characterized during the day and at night. Each ant species’ degree of nocturnality and shaded microhabitat use were determined. Along the disturbance gradient, the frequency of sun-exposed microhabitats increased, as did the daytime ground surface temperatures; also, community composition, but not ant abundance or species richness, changed. Independent of disturbance intensity, community composition differed between day and night, and ant abundance and species richness were higher during the day. Interestingly, most species did not display strictly diurnal habits, nor did they avoid foraging in sun-exposed habitats. However, species common in more disturbed areas were more diurnal and used sun-exposed microhabitats more than species common in less disturbed areas. Many species displayed marked behavioral plasticity that was unrelated to disturbance intensity. Disturbance intensity did influence shaded microhabitat use but not the degree of nocturnality. We conclude that Caatinga ants are already morphologically, behaviorally and physiologically adapted to harsh environmental conditions; that species with different behavioral traits replace each other along the disturbance gradient; and that more plastic species can persist by shifting their microhabitat use.


Caatinga Foraging behavior Formicidae Habitat structure Microclimate Plasticity Thermal ecology 



We are very grateful to Marcella Nínive and Fernanda M.P. Oliveira for their assistance with field work, to Rodrigo Feitosa for helping to identify the ants, and to Jessica Pearce-Duvet for editing the manuscript’s English. This study was funded by the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq; PELD 403770/2012-2, Universal 470480/2013-0), the Foundation for Science and Technology Support of the State of Pernambuco (FACEPE; APQ 06012.05/15, APQ 0738-2.05/12, and PRONEX 0138-2.05/14), and the Rufford Small Grants Foundation (RSG 17372-1). CNPq receives thanks from XA for his postdoctoral grants (PDS-167533/2013-4 and PDS-165623/2015-2), from ILHS for her PIBIC grant, and from IRL for her research grants (Produtividade 305611/2014-3).

Supplementary material

40_2019_717_MOESM1_ESM.docx (301 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 301 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Union for the Study of Social Insects (IUSSI) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Programa de Pós-Graduação em Biologia VegetalUniversidade Federal de Pernambuco, Centro de BiociênciasRecifeBrazil
  2. 2.Departamento de BotânicaUniversidade Federal de PernambucoRecifeBrazil
  3. 3.Laboratório de Ecologia TerrestreUniversidade Federal da Paraíba, Centro de Ciências AgráriasAreiaBrazil
  4. 4.CREAF, Campus UABCerdanyola del VallèsSpain

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