Are ant assemblages of Brazilian veredas characterised by location or habitat type?
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Wetland areas in the Brazilian Cerrado, known as “veredas”, represent ecosystems formed on sandy soils with high concentrations of peat, and are responsible for the recharge of aquiferous reservoirs. They are currently under threat by various human activities, most notably the clearing of vegetation for Eucalyptus plantations. Despite their ecological importance and high conservation value, little is known about the actual effects of human disturbance on the animal community. To assess how habitat within different veredas, and plantations surrounding them affect ant assemblages, we selected four independent vereda locations, two being impacted by Eucalyptus monoculture (one younger and one mature plantation) and two controls, where the wetland was surrounded by cerrado vegetation. Ant sampling was conducted in May 2010 (dry season) using three complementary methods, namely baits, pitfall traps, and hand collection, in the wetland and in the surrounding habitats. A total of 7,575 ants were sampled, belonging to seven subfamilies, 32 genera and 124 species.Ant species richness and abundance did not differ between vereda locations, but did between the habitats. When impacted by the monoculture, ant species richness and abundance decreased in wetlands, but were less affected in the cerrado habitat. Ant species composition differed between the three habitats and between vereda locations. Eucalyptus plantations had an ant species composition defined by high dominance of Pheidole sp. and Solenopsis invicta, while natural habitats were defined by Camponotus and Crematogaster species. Atta sexdens was strictly confined to native habitats of non-impacted “veredas”. Eucalyptus monocultures require high quantities of water in the early stages, which may have caused a decrease in groundwater level in the wetland, allowing hypogeic ants such as Labidus praedator to colonise this habitat.
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