Habitat loss is widely recognized as the major cause of global biodiversity decline, but remaining habitat is increasingly threatened by chronic human disturbances. Using a multi-model averaging approach we examined the association between five chronic disturbance surrogates and the richness and taxonomic and functional composition of ants in Brazilian Caatinga. Using pitfall traps in 47 plots near Parnamirim city (Pernambuco) across two soil types (sand and clay), we recorded 53 species from 27 genera. Ant species richness on sand was slightly higher than on clay, and was negatively related to most surrogates of anthropogenic disturbance. Soil type and human population size were the main predictors of ant species richness. Soil type was the most important predictor of functional group abundance. Taxonomic and functional composition were influenced by soil type and disturbance, but this relationship varied between clay and sandy soils. Ant functional composition showed a weak relationship with disturbance on sandy soils, but on clay soils it showed predictable winner-loser replacement. We attribute the greater effect of disturbance on clay soils to higher intensity of land use, and our study highlights the importance of considering context dependence when evaluating biodiversity responses to disturbance.