Is livestock grazing compatible with biodiversity conservation? Impacts on savanna ant communities in the Australian seasonal tropics

Gabriela B. Arcoverde, Alan N. Andersen, Samantha A. Setterfield

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Grazing by domestic livestock is one of the most widespread forms of anthropogenic disturbance globally, and can have a major impact on biodiversity and therefore conservation values. Here we use ants to assess the extent to which livestock grazing is compatible with biodiversity conservation in a tropical savanna of northern Australia, where there is growing pressure to intensify pastoral production. We focus on the extent to which ant responses conform with four general patterns identified in a recent global review: (1) soil and vegetation type have a far bigger impact on ant community composition than does grazing; (2) grazing modifies ant species composition but often not species richness or total abundance; (3) a species’ response often varies among habitats; and (4) between 25–50% of the species that can be statistically analysed are responsive to grazing. We sampled ants using pitfall traps at 38 sites in two land systems, based on cross-fence comparisons of areas of different grazing intensities. A total of 130 ant species from 24 genera were recorded, with the fauna dominated by species of Iridomyrmex and Monomorium. Land system was the primary driver of variation in ant species richness and composition, and grazing intensity was related to neither species richness nor total abundance. Only 10% of common species appeared to be impacted by grazing. Overall, ant responses to grazing in our study region were generally consistent with the four global patterns, except that the local fauna seems to be particularly resilient. Such resilience indicates that current grazing management practices are compatible with the conservation of ant biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)883-897
Number of pages15
JournalBiodiversity and Conservation
Issue number4
Early online date19 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017


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