Responses of ants to disturbance in Australia, with particular reference to functional groups

Benjamin D. Hoffmann, Alan N. Andersen

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


    Ants are widely used as bioindicators in environmental assessment in Australia, partly because the responses of ant communities to disturbance are relatively well understood. In particular, the use of functional groups has provided a predictive framework for analysing ant community responses to disturbance in the absence of reliable information on the responses of individual species. Here we review 45 studies of the responses of Australian ant communities to disturbance, in order to: (i) identify individual species or species-groups that respond consistently to disturbance, and (ii) examine the usefulness of the functional group scheme as a framework for predicting ant community responses under different disturbance regimes in different biogeographical regions. The most common forms of disturbance in our studies were fire (17 studies), mining (12; mostly studies of minesite restoration) and grazing (7), with other disturbances including clearing, logging, flooding, recreation, urbanization and farming. Responses of individual species were inevitably variable because of differences in vegetation type, severity of disturbance and time since disturbance. However, we identified a range of widespread species that showed predictable responses, including species of the metallica group of Rhytidoponera in temperate Australia ('increasers' in relation to disturbance), species of the terebrans and denticulatus groups of Camponotus (increasers), the aeneovirens group of Melophorus (increasers) from the arid zone, and Iridomyrmex pallidus (increaser) from the monsoonal region. The functional group scheme assessed here was not designed specifically in the context of disturbance, but nevertheless in some situations provides a useful framework for analysing ant community responses. Three distinct syndromes of functional group responses can be recognized. First, Dominant Dolichoderinae and Hot Climate Specialists are groups that prefer open environments, and tend to be favoured by low levels of disturbance in well-forested habitats. Second, Opportunists and often also Generalized Myrmicinae are broadly adapted taxa with wide habitat tolerances, but are particularly sensitive to competitive interactions such that their responses oppose those of Dominant Dolichoderinae. Finally, Cryptic Species and Specialist Predators have highly specialized requirements that make them especially sensitive to disturbance. Functional groups are of most use in situations where disturbance causes substantial change in habitat structure, particularly in the ground-layer. Functional groups are of least use in very open habitats, where disturbance merely increases what is already extensive bare ground, and has relatively little impact on microclimate. The ant functional group scheme can play an important role in assessing disturbance in mesic Australia, but may be of more limited use for this in the arid zone.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)444-464
    Number of pages21
    JournalAustral Ecology
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2003


    Dive into the research topics of 'Responses of ants to disturbance in Australia, with particular reference to functional groups'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this