Biodiversity impacts of an invasive grass: ant community responses to Cenchrus ciliaris in arid Australia

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Buffel grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) is a highly invasive species that thrives in semi-arid environments and has the capacity to transform native vegetation outside its native range. However, there is limited information on the effects of buffel grass invasion on native fauna. We used an experimental approach to investigate the impact of buffel grass on the native ant fauna near Alice Springs in semi-arid central Australia. A series of plots where buffel grass was removed and native vegetation had regenerated (B−), paired with adjacent control plots heavily invaded by buffel grass (B+), were used to assess the impact of buffel grass on ant diversity and composition, and on rates of seed dispersal by ants. Differences in ant diversity were also compared between two microhabitat types: bare ground and under cover, to examine the extent to which any impacts were a simple function of change in vegetation cover. Ant abundance and richness were approximately 50 % higher in B− compared with B+ plots, and higher abundance was especially pronounced for the very thermophilic Hot-Climate Specialists. Ant species composition varied significantly between plot types. B− plots supported more species and individuals in both bare and covered microhabitats, which suggests that the differences in ant diversity was not simply through changes in vegetation cover. Rates of seed removal by ants were marginally higher in B− plots. Our findings indicate that buffel grass has a major impact on a dominant faunal group of arid Australia, and possibly reduces the delivery of an important ecosystem service. In addition, our study demonstrates the potential for ecosystem recovery following effective buffel grass management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)57-72
Number of pages16
JournalBiological Invasions
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2017


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