Ant Assemblages in Intact Big Sagebrush and Converted Cheatgrass-Dominated Habitats in Rush Valley, Tooele County, Utah, USA

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Western North American Naturalist



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Biological invasions are one of the greatest threats to native species in natural ecological systems. One of the most successful invasive species is Bromus tectorum L. (cheatgrass), which is having marked impacts on native plant communities and ecosystem processes. However, we know little about the effects of this invasion on native animal species in the Intermountain West. Because ants have been used to detect ecological change associated with anthropogenic land use, they seem well suited for a preliminary evaluation of the consequences of cheatgrass-driven habitat conversion. In our study, we used pitfall traps to assess ant community assemblages in intact sagebrush and nearby cheatgrass-dominated vegetation. Ant abundance was about 10-fold greater in cheatgrass-dominated plots than in sagebrush plots. We also noted differences in diversity and evenness between habitat types at both the species and the functional-group levels of organization. At the species level, Shannon's diversity index was greater in sagebrush plots than in cheatgrass-dominated plots. However, at the functional-group level, Simpson's and Shannon's diversity indices and the Brillouin evenness index were greater in cheatgrass-dominated plots than in sagebrush plots. Further, common species / functional groups tended to be more abundant while less common species / functional groups tended to be less abundant in cheatgrass-dominated plots compared to intact sagebrush plots. Patterns appear to be at least partially related to resource availabilities. This initial survey of ant communities from intact-native and altered vegetation types may be indicative of similar trends of biodiversity shifts throughout the Intermountain West where cheatgrass has successfully replaced native species. We also discuss the implications of ant communities on land management activities, specifically in the context of aridland restoration.

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