• ants;
  • applied ecology;
  • cattle;
  • conservation;
  • effects;
  • pastoralism

Abstract  Fire is a significant feature of Australia's savannas. Its use is being encouraged for cattle rangeland management, but there is little knowledge of the ecological effects of prescribed fire regimes on native biodiversity. The responses of ant communities to five experimental fire regimes over 2 years are reported from the Victoria River District in the semi-arid tropics of northern Australia. The experiment was stratified at two levels: soil type (red and black) and fire treatment (unburnt; burnt twice in successive years in early (May) or late (October) dry season and unburnt thereafter; and burnt twice, 3 years apart, in early or late dry season). Ants were sampled twice in April, corresponding with the end of the 1997 and 1998 wet seasons. Ant species richness was not responsive to fire treatment, but reduced with time since fire on black soil. Total ant abundance also reduced with time since fire on the black soil, with significant different abundances in burnt versus unburnt plots in the 1998 sample. Soil type and sampling time had the greatest influence on ant community composition in multivariate analysis than did fire regime, although there were moderate gradients of time since fire with the black soil plots. The abundance of 19 species were significantly different between fire regimes in anova, 13 on red soil and six on black soil. The abundance of eight species (four each on red and black soil) changed significantly with time since fire, with seven promoted by burning. Ant functional group profiles changed little with fire. Total ant abundance and richness had significant relationships with key pasture species and vegetative variables. The responses of ants largely recapitulated those of plants, birds and reptiles on the same plots. It is envisaged that ants will have an important role to play in the sustainable management of Australia's rangelands aiding the off-reserve conservation of biodiversity.