Assessing factors influencing the spatial distribution of species diversity in ground dwelling ant assemblages in lowland, wet forest of southwest Sri Lanka
|dc.contributor.author||Gunawardene, Nihara R|
|dc.contributor.supervisor||Prof. Jonathan Majer|
Tropical forests of the world are fast disappearing and there is a race to understand patterns of species distribution in space and time. Studying species distributions can provide better frameworks for conservation of these ecologically important patches of floral and faunal diversity. The island of Sri Lanka is a well known harbour of unique and highly threatened biodiversity. Tropical lowland forest is remnant in the south-west of the island now mainly existing in small patches. While most are small disturbed fragments, Sinharaja Forest Reserve represents one of the largest remaining patches of this important ecosystem. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Man and Biosphere Reserve, it has a dual role as a conservation area and a historically important resource forest. While the distribution of vegetation diversity has been well documented, analyses of invertebrate species distributions are lacking. This thesis investigated a key arthropod group, ground dwelling ants, in relation to environmental gradients within the forest. Cumulative results demonstrate the high diversity of the forest patch. In an area representing less than half the reserve, over 173 ground dwelling ant species were found in distinct assemblages throughout the forest. Since the forest is located upon a series of parallel ridges, ant species distribution was first analysed in terms of this small elevation change. Species richness declined over a vertical incline from 430 m to 660 m, highlighting a possible small-scale, mountain mass effect. This section of the reserve is also characterised by a patch of once-logged forest (30 years previously). A study was undertaken to investigate whether there were residual effects of selective logging on the reserve.Significant differences between species assemblages in once-logged forest and unlogged forest add to growing evidence that selectively logged forests continue to remain distinct from unlogged forest even after decades of regeneration. Ant distribution was then analysed for their relationship with habitat heterogeneity and tree species distribution. Long-term research on tree species in the SFR has demonstrated a close relationship to habitat complexity. Ant species appear to respond more to the structural heterogeneity of the vegetation than to actual topographic variation within the forest. From a conservation perspective, maintaining the integrity of this highly diverse forest is imperative. The impact of anthropogenic land uses surrounding the forest was investigated in terms of ant assemblages along the forest edges. Significant differences were found between assemblages within the edges bordered by different matrix types. Even relatively large forest remnants can be affected by the surrounding matrix land uses and encouraging the growth of structurally similar vegetation and maintaining low disturbance along the borders should attenuate the effect of the edge. Overall, the highly heterogeneous distribution of ant assemblages within the SFR demonstrates the potential for other small patches to be harbours of further species diversity. Future research should be undertaken to assess the diversity and distribution of ant species within this region and encourage the protection of this remnant diversity.
|dc.subject||ground dwelling ants|
|dc.title||Assessing factors influencing the spatial distribution of species diversity in ground dwelling ant assemblages in lowland, wet forest of southwest Sri Lanka|
|curtin.department||Department of Environmental Biology|