Landscape Ecology

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 731–745 | Cite as

Effect of fragmentation, habitat loss and within-patch habitat characteristics on ant assemblages in semi-arid woodlands of eastern Australia

  • Valerie J. Debuse
  • Judith King
  • Alan P. N.  House
Research Article


The reliability of ants as bioindicators of ecosystem condition is dependent on the consistency of their response to localised habitat characteristics, which may be modified by larger-scale effects of habitat fragmentation and loss. We assessed the relative contribution of habitat fragmentation, habitat loss and within-patch habitat characteristics in determining ant assemblages in semi-arid woodland in Queensland, Australia. Species and functional group abundance were recorded using pitfall traps across 20 woodland patches in landscapes that exhibited a range of fragmentation states. Of fragmentation measures, changes in patch area and patch edge contrast exerted the greatest influence on species assemblages, after accounting for differences in habitat loss. However, 35% of fragmentation effects on species were confounded by the effects of habitat characteristics and habitat loss. Within-patch habitat characteristics explained more than twice the amount of species variation attributable to fragmentation and four times the variation explained by habitat loss. The study indicates that within-patch habitat characteristics are the predominant drivers of ant composition. We suggest that caution should be exercised in interpreting the independent effects of habitat fragmentation and loss on ant assemblages without jointly considering localised habitat attributes and associated joint effects.


Landscape Functional groups Variance partitioning 



This research was conducted as part of Land and Water Australia Project QNR 28, with financial support from Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water. We thank landowners for property access and Landcare members for assistance with locating study sites. We thank David Taylor, Scott Swift, Michael Kraus, Melanie Venz, Giselle Whish, Jian Wang, Tonya Hardaker and David Osborne who provided data for this study and we are grateful to Chris Burwell, Rudi Kohout and Alan Andersen for assistance with species identification. We thank Alan Andersen and two anonymous referees for their comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Valerie J. Debuse
    • 1
    • 2
  • Judith King
    • 3
  • Alan P. N.  House
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Primary Industries and FisheriesHorticulture and Forestry ScienceGympieAustralia
  2. 2.The Centre for Innovative Conservation StrategiesGriffith UniversityGold Coast MCAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Primary Industries and FisheriesHorticulture and Forestry ScienceIndooroopillyAustralia
  4. 4.CSIRO Sustainable EcosystemsSt LuciaAustralia

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