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Ants in the Grassland. Ann B. Mayo University of Texas–Arlington America’s Grassland Conference Manhattan, KS. their importance and potential as indicators of ecosystem health. Why study ants?. They bit and sting. They may be pest and invasive species. We do not invite them on picnics.

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ants in the grassland

Ants in the Grassland

Ann B. Mayo

University of Texas–Arlington

America’s Grassland Conference

Manhattan, KS

their importance and potential as indicators of ecosystem health

why study ants
Why study ants?
  • They bit and sting.
  • They may be pest and invasive species.
  • We do not invite them on picnics.

Ants are quite fascinating

and important.

Fire ants

(Solenopsis sp.)

on an Oreo

importance of ants
Importance of Ants
  • Ubiquitous
  • Diversity
    • Ecosystem engineers
    • Important relationships

Internal nest of the Florida harvester ant

Nest mound of the Western harvester ant

potential as bioindicators
Potential as Bioindicators
  • Ecology and small scale
  • Ease of monitoring
  • Hypotheses
    • Ground active ant assemblage

will vary (and therefore, indicate)

      • with habitat
      • with disturbance
  • Comparison of ant assemblages in 17 sites
    • Fort Worth Nature Center, Fort Worth, Texas

Tree trimming and mowing in an electrical power line right of way

17 study sites
17 Study Sites
  • 3 wooded sites and 14 prairie sites

Natural experiment: sites were paired

    • same ecological unit/soil type
      • burned and unburned: 2 replicates
      • mowed and unmowed: 3 replicates
      • wooded and non-wooded: 3 replicates

Details of a Comanche harvester ant nest

study sites
Study Sites

mowed/disturbance site

burned site

Aquilla prairie

mowed/disturbance site

oak woodland

Aquilla prairie

Aquilla prairie

mowed/disturbance site

Aledo clay loam

methods
Methods
  • Environmental variables
    • soil characteristics
    • vegetation characteristics
    • ecological units
  • Ant collection
    • pitfall traps in a 3 X 5 grid
    • 72 hour collection per month
    • March – September 2012
  • Ordination Analysis in CANOCO
  • Functional Groups
results pca
Results: PCA
  • Environmental variables
pca ecological units
PCA: Ecological Units

Aquilla prairie

other sites

other sites

Aquilla woodland

results rda
Results: RDA
  • Species occurrence and environmental variables
functional groups
Functional Groups
  • Dominant

Forelius (2)

  • Camponotini

Camponotus (2)

  • Hot Climate Specialists

Pogonomyrmex (2)

Solenopsis (2 fire ants)

  • Cold Climate Specialists

Prenolepis (1)

  • Cryptic Species

Brachymyrmex (2)

Solenopsis (2 thief ants)

Strumigenys (3)

  • Opportunistic Species

Aphaenogaster (2)

Dorymyrmex (2)

Nylanderia (2)

  • Generalized Myrmicinae

Crematogaster (2)

Formica (pallidefulva group - 1)

Monomorium (1)

Pheidole (4)

Temnothorax (2)

  • Specialist Predators -- none 
  • Tropical Climate Specialists

Labidus (1)

Trachymyrmex (2)

the Comanche harvester ant

harassed by Forelius

conclusions
Conclusions
  • Align with environmental, vegetation, and ecological characteristics.
  • Potential as indicators of habitat types
  • Potential as monitors of ecosystem health

the Comanche harvester ant foraging on seeds

acknowledgements
Acknowledgements
  • Photo of Dr. Tschinkel (Florida State University) and nest cast used with permission
  • Fort Worth Nature Center

and Wildlife Refuge

  • City of Fort Worth, Texas
    • Parks and Community

Services Department

questions asked
Questions Asked
  • Are there implications for understanding/monitoring climate change?

Yes, this is one reason for studying ants – they are thermophilic in general and some species are found only in arid grasslands and deserts. As climate changes, the ant species present are expected to change in their occurrence, distribution and range. In the past, ants present in packrat middens have been used to asses or confirm climate conditions.

questions asked1
Questions Asked
  • How are nest casts made?

Dr. Walter Tschinkel has especially developed techniques for making casts in wax, plaster, and aluminum. The chosen material is poured into a nest, allowed to harden, and then excavated. Visit his site at Florida State University for more information. He has several papers on nest casts and architecture.

questions asked2
Questions Asked
  • What does low intensity fire mean?

The prairies that were burned were controlled, low intensity burns meant to control scrubby woody growth and reduce litter. Intensity of a burn has to do with how hot and how long. These burns did not significantly effect the soil. For ants, this means that only the microclimate above ground was affected which can be a significant deterrent to ant activity and presence. I did not detect such an effect in this study.