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Keywords:

  • Ants;
  • diversity;
  • dryness gradient;
  • fire;
  • forest type;
  • Mediterranean communities;
  • post-fire recovery;
  • resilience;
  • species richness

Abstract

Aim  In the Mediterranean Basin, the main forest communities vary in their ability to recover after fire. In this study we analyse the effects of fire on ant communities occurring in various vegetation types distributed along a geographical gradient in the western Mediterranean region.

Location  The study was carried out in burned and unburned habitats of 22 sites corresponding to eight vegetation types distributed along a gradient of dryness throughout Catalonia (north-east Spain).

Methods  We placed five pairs of plots (one plot located in the burned area and the second one placed in the unburned margin) per site. We compared ant communities in these unburned and burned plot types 8 years after fire using pitfall traps. Traps were set out in mid-May and mid-July. We analysed the structure and composition of ant communities in the burned and unburned areas of these vegetation types using anova tests, correspondence analysis (CA) and linear regression.

Results  The resilience of ant communities varies with vegetation type. Ant communities in forests with high resilience also recover rapidly after fire, while those in forests that do not recover after fire show the lowest resilience. Species richness does not depend on burning or vegetation type. The resilience of these Mediterranean ant communities to fire is related to the environmental characteristics of the region where they live. Accordingly, differences between burned and unburned habitats are smaller for ant communities in areas with higher water deficit in summer than for those in moister ones.

Main conclusions  The structure and composition of ant communities after fire depends on the level of direct mortality caused by the fire. It affects ant species differently, as determined by the habitats used for nesting and foraging. The reestablishment of vegetation cover depends on forest composition before the fire. As vegetation cover determines resource and microhabitat availability and competitive relationships among species, forest composition before the fire also affects post-fire recovery of ant communities to the medium-term. Finally, ant communities living in drier areas recover more quickly after fire than those living in moister ones. This pattern might be because in areas with higher water deficit there are more species characteristic of open environments, which are habitats similar to those generated after fire.