Biological invasions are typically associated with disturbance, which often makes their impact on biodiversity unclear-biodiversity decline might be driven by disturbance, with the invader just being a 'passenger'. Alternatively, an invader may act as a 'back-seat driver', being facilitated by disturbance that has already caused some biodiversity decline, but then causing further decline. Here we examine the interactive effects of anthropogenic fire and invasive ant species (Anoplolepis gracilipes or Wasmannia auropunctata) on native ant diversity in New Caledonia, a globally recognized biodiversity hotspot. We first examined native ant diversity at nine paired burnt and unburnt sites, with four pairs invaded by Anoplolepis, 5 years after an extensive fire. In the absence of invasion, native epigaeic ants were resilient to fire, but native ant richness and the abundance of Forest Opportunists were markedly lower in invaded burnt sites. Second, we examined native ant diversity along successional gradients from human-derived savanna to natural rainforest in the long-term absence of fire, where there was a disconnection between disturbance-mediated variation in microhabitat and the abundance of the disturbance specialist Wasmannia. All native ant diversity responses (total abundance, richness, species composition, functional group richness and the abundance of Forest Opportunists) declined independently of microhabitat variables but in direct association with high Wasmannia abundance. Our results indicate that invasive ants are acting as back-seat drivers of biodiversity decline in New Caledonia, with invasion facilitated by disturbance but then causing further biodiversity decline.
|Number of pages||21|
|Publication status||Published - Oct 2013|