The impact of dry deposition of SO2 emissions on ant abundance, diversity and composition was investigated at Mount Isa in the semiarid tropics of northern Australia. Forty plots were sampled, stratified at two levels: sulfur deposition zones (high, medium, low, and two control zones) and habitat (Ridge and Plain). The two habitats supported distinctly different ant communities. Ants had clear responses to SO2 emissions. Ant abundance was lowest in the high and medium sulfur zones in both habitats. Species richness in high SO2 plots (up to 5 km from the source) was approximately half that of control plots in Ridge habitat, and was substantially less than controls in the Plain habitat. Ant community composition in the high sulfur zone was clearly separated from those of other zones in ordinations. Vector fitting showed soil SO4 concentration as a primary correlative factor in this separation. Ant abundance and richness were both negatively correlated with soil SO4 concentration, and positively correlated with plant species richness and distance away from the smelters. The abundance of 10 of the 21 most common species showed significant responses to emissions. Five species showed positive responses, and all belong to species-groups known to be abundant at disturbed sites throughout northern Australia. Relative abundance and richness of Eyrean (arid adapted) taxa collectively responded positively to sulfur, and Torresian (tropical) and Widespread species responded negatively. Despite large changes in species composition and abundances, there was relatively little change in the abundance of functional groups that have been widely used in studies of Australian ant communities. Ants are sensitive to SO2 emissions and appear to be good candidates as an indicator group in this context. However, an alternative functional group framework is required for the identification of recurrent responses of arid zone ant communities to disturbance.
|Number of pages||11|
|Publication status||Published - Dec 2000|