Ants and termites: The little things that run your ranch

TitleAnts and termites: The little things that run your ranch
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsBestelmeyer BT, Whitford WG
Conference Name56th Annual Meeting, Society for Range Management
Date PublishedFebruary 1-6, 20
Conference LocationCasper, WY
ARIS Log Number159366
AbstractAnts and termites are very abundant, active, and species-rich animal groups in rangelands. One can hardly take a step without seeing evidence of their presence. As a consequence, these animals are intimately tied to many parts of rangeland functioning. The burrowing activities of ants and termites can be critical to maintaining soil quality and infiltration in the short-term and soil development over the long-term. These animals also have important effects on nutrient transport, retention, and availability in soils. The many species of inconspicuous, scavenging ants are largely responsible for removing dead animal matter into the soil. Where termites are abundant, their consumption of dead plant material may regulate, and actually decrease, the amount of organic matter in soils. But, ants and termites are also reservoirs of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus. These nutrients are stored in their bodies and are released during nuptial flights after rains at points in time when they can be rapidly incorporated by other life forms. Ants are also important consumers of seeds and plants. Thus, the activities of ants and termites directly and indirectly affect plant production as well as the diversity of other rangeland organisms. Luckily, ants and termites are forgiving animal groups with respect to current and historical overgrazing in many rangelands. Nonetheless, observing the activities of these groups and understanding their significance can aid in gauging the health of rangelands as well as enjoying them.