Livestock grazing effects on ant communities in the eastern Mojave Desert, USA

TitleLivestock grazing effects on ant communities in the eastern Mojave Desert, USA
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsNash M.S., Bradford D.F., Franson S.E., Neale A.C., Whitford WG, Heggem D.T.
JournalEcological Indicators
Date PublishedSeptember 1, 200
ARIS Log Number167806
Keywordsant, Ant community, Bare patches, Bioindicator, indicator, livestock grazing, Mojave Desert, Rangeland condition, vegetation

The effects of livestock grazing on composition and structure of ant communities were examined in the eastern Mojave Desert, USA for the purpose of evaluating ant communities as potential indicators of rangeland condition. Metrics for ant communities, vegetation, and other ground-cover elements were evaluated as a function of distance from livestock water tanks, which represents a gradient in level of livestock activity in desert settings. Data were collected at six isolated water tanks used by cattle during early summer, with seven plots (90m × 90m; 100 pitfall traps) per tank. Thirty-eight species of ants were recorded, with an average of 14 ant species per plot. Ant species richness did not differ as a function of distance from the water tank. Also, overall species composition, as measured by a similarity index for species presence/absence for paired-comparisons of plots, did not show differences attributable to the gradient in grazing impact. In contrast, the relative abundance of several taxa and functional groups was significantly related to distance from the water tank. The predominant pattern was for the greatest abundance to occur at the water tank, with little difference in ant abundance among plots away from the water tank. This pattern was shown by the abundant ants species, Conomyrma bicolor and Pheidole tucsonica, and the groups Conomyrma spp., Pheidole spp., homopteran tenders, and plant foragers. However, two species, Aphaenogaster megommata and Monomorium wheelerorum showed the greatest relative abundance at a distance away from the water tank. A number of ant metrics were significantly related to ground-cover metrics (R2> 0.5). Organic debris was the variable most frequently related significantly to ant abundance metrics, always in a positive direction, followed by cover for perennial grasses, annual forbs, and shrubs, and bare patch size. Ant community metrics in the study region appear to have little potential to serve as indicators of rangeland condition because differences were evident primarily in severely degraded localized conditions rather than in intermediate widespread conditions.