Old-field restoration improves habitat for ants in a semi-arid landscape

Tina Parkhurst, Rachel J. Standish, Alan N. Andersen, Suzanne M. Prober

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Many old fields are undergoing ecological restoration aiming to return lost biodiversity and ecosystem functions. However, there is scant evidence that this outcome is achieved. Here we investigate the effects of tree planting following cessation of cropping on ant communities. Ants are a dominant faunal group, functionally important for ecosystem recovery and widely used as indicators of ecosystem restoration. Using a space-for-time approach, we surveyed eight fallow croplands, 10-year-old planted old fields, and reference woodlands in semi-arid south-western Australia. We tested the extent ant communities in planted old fields diverged from those of fallow cropland and converged with those of reference woodlands, distinguishing areas under tree canopies and open patches to account for a direct tree effect. We analyzed ant community data at species, genus, and functional-group levels. Ant species composition in planted old fields substantially converged from fallow croplands toward reference woodlands. Abundance and richness of genera in the tree-associated functional group Subordinate Camponotini was higher under trees than in open areas in planted old fields and reference woodlands. Unlike in reference woodlands, abundance and richness of Hot Climate Specialists was not higher in open areas than under trees in planted old fields, indicating that planted trees did not yet strongly impact the microclimate beneath them. Although old field restoration had positive effects on ant assemblages, full convergence to reference woodlands had not been achieved after 10 years. This was particularly evident for functional groups. Research on older plantings is needed to test if and when full convergence occurs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere13605
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalRestoration Ecology
Issue number7
Early online dateNov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


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