1. Ecological disturbance is fundamental to the dynamics of biological communities, yet a conceptual framework for understanding the responses of faunal communities to disturbance remains elusive. Here, I propose five principles for understanding the disturbance dynamics of ants—a globally dominant faunal group that is widely used as bioindicators in land management, which appear to have wide applicability to other taxa.
2. These principles are as follows: (1) The most important effects of habitat disturbance on ants are typically indirect, through its effects on habitat structure, microclimate, resource availability and competitive interactions; (2) habitat openness is a key driver of variation in ant communities; (3) ant species responses to disturbance are to a large degree determined by their responses to habitat openness; (4) the same disturbance will have different effects on ants in different habitats, because of different impacts on habitat openness; and (5) ant community responses to the same disturbance will vary according to ant functional composition and biogeographical history in relation to habitat openness.
3. I illustrate these principles using results primarily from studies of ant responses to fire, a dominant agent of disturbance globally, to provide a common disturbance currency for comparative analysis.
4. I argue that many of the principles also apply to other faunal groups and so can be considered as general ecological “laws.” As is the case for ants, many impacts of habitat disturbance on other faunal groups are fundamentally related to habitat openness, the effects of disturbance on it and the functional composition of species in relation to it.