Aim To assess how ant species richness and structure of ant communities are influenced by island age (disturbance history) in a dynamic archipelago.
Location Cabra Corral dam, Salta Province, north-west Argentina (25°08′ S, 65°20′ W).
Methods Ant species richness on remaining fragments (islands) of a flooded forest was determined, as well as island area, isolation and age. Simple linear regressions were performed to assess relationships between ant species richness and those insular variables. Furthermore, a stepwise multiple linear regression analysis was conducted in order to determine the relative influence of each insular variable on ant species richness. Islands were categorized in two age classes (old and young) and co-occurrence analyses were applied within each class to evaluate changes in community structure because of interspecific competition.
Results Simple regression analyses indicated a moderate, positive effect of island area on ant species richness. Weak, marginally non-significant relationships were found between ant species richness and both island isolation and island age, showing the tendency for there to be a decrease in ant species richness with island isolation and that ant species richness might be higher in old islands. The multiple regression analysis indicated that island isolation and age had no significant effects on the number of ant species, island area being the only independent variable retained in the analysis. On the contrary, whereas a random pattern of species co-occurrence was found on young islands, ant communities in old islands showed a significantly negative pattern of species co-occurrence, suggesting that the effect of competition on community structure was stronger on older islands than on younger islands.
Main conclusions Island area was the most important variable explaining ant species richness on the islands of Cabra Corral dam. However, both island isolation and island age (or disturbance history) might also contribute to shape the observed community patterns. The present study also shows that island age significantly affects the strength with which interspecific interactions structure ant communities on islands.