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Experimental small-scale grassland fragmentation alters competitive interactions among ant species

Abstract

Different species may respond differently to habitat fragmentation. Theory predicts that abundant generalist species should be less affected by fragmentation than specialist species. In ant communities, the most abundant species is often behaviourally dominant. Thus, habitat fragmentation could alter competitive interactions between the dominant ant species and the other species. We tested this hypothesis in a long-term grassland fragmentation experiment. Fragments of different size (20.25 and 2.25 m2) were isolated by a 5-m wide strip of frequently mown vegetation. Control plots were situated in adjacent undisturbed grassland. Ant density and species composition were assessed 3 and 6 years after initiation of the experimental fragmentation. The effect of the dominant ant species on the resource use of the other species was examined at natural sugar resources (aphids and extrafloral nectaries) and at artificial sugar baits. Lasius paralienus was the most abundant ant species (72% of nests) in the grasslands examined. Species richness and forager density in the other species decreased with increasing density of L. paralienus in fragments but not in control plots. The overall forager density of the other species was positively related to their habitat niche overlap with L. paralienus. The density of foragers of the other species at sugar resources was not affected by L. paralienus forager density. The experimental fragmentation resulted in an increase in natural sugar resources in fragments. This may have reduced the intensity of interspecific competition for sugar resources. Our study shows that the grassland fragmentation altered interactions between the dominant L. paralienus and the other ant species.

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Acknowledgements

We thank N. Minoretti for field assistance and B. Seifert and R. Neumeyer for their help with ant determination. Samuel Zschokke and two anonymous referees provided constructive comments on the manuscript. Financial support was received from the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant 5001–44620 to B. Baur).

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Correspondence to Brigitte Braschler.

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Braschler, B., Baur, B. Experimental small-scale grassland fragmentation alters competitive interactions among ant species. Oecologia 143, 291–300 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-004-1778-x

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Keywords

  • Community composition
  • Dominance
  • Euphorbia cyparissias
  • Formicidae
  • Nest density