Response of African savanna ants to long-term fire regimes

Authors

  • CATHERINE L. PARR,

    1. Department of Zoology and Entomology, University of Pretoria, Pretoria 0002, South Africa
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  • HAMISH G. ROBERTSON,

    1. South African Museum, Iziko Museums of Cape Town, PO Box 61, Cape Town 8000, South Africa
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  • HARRY C. BIGGS,

    1. Scientific Services, Kruger National Park, Private Bag X402, Skukuza 1350, South Africa
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  • STEVEN L. CHOWN

    Corresponding author
    1. Spatial, Physiological and Conservation Ecology Group, Department of Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa
      S.L. Chown, Department of Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa (fax + 27 21 8082405; e-mail slchown@sun.ac.za).
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S.L. Chown, Department of Zoology, University of Stellenbosch, Private Bag X1, Matieland 7602, South Africa (fax + 27 21 8082405; e-mail slchown@sun.ac.za).

Summary

  • 1Despite the fact that fire is considered an important disturbance in savannas across the world and is used widely as a management tool in conservation areas, little is known about the effects of burning on their insect communities.
  • 2This study made use of a 50-year fire experiment to investigate the responses of ant assemblages to long-term burning regimes. The effects of fire frequency, season and time since fire (fuel age) were tested on epigaeic ants across three savanna vegetation types (Mopane woodland, Acacia savanna and Terminalia woodland) in Kruger National Park, South Africa.
  • 3There was no significant effect of burning on mean ant species richness and abundance between treatments, although there were significant differences in ant assemblage composition between burned (treatment) and unburned (control) plots. The effects of season, frequency of burn and plot age on assemblage structure were weak and often not significant.
  • 4Epigaeic ant assemblages in this savanna system appeared to be highly resistant and resilient to burning. The response of ants to fire was linked to changes in habitat cover and structure: the effect of fire on vegetation and ants was less pronounced in lower rainfall areas, where differences in vegetation structure between burnt and unburnt plots were less pronounced than in higher rainfall areas.
  • 5Synthesis and applications. The effect of fire on ant assemblages in the mid- to northern Kruger National Park depends on whether a patch burns or not, rather than the specifics of the burning treatment. Thus, conservation managers can focus concerns regarding the subtleties of fire regimes on other taxa or areas of particular concern.

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