Fire resilience of ant assemblages in long-unburnt savanna of northern Australia

Classify & Cross-ref
Ecology and Biodiversity
TitleFire resilience of ant assemblages in long-unburnt savanna of northern Australia
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsParr, CL, Andersen, AN
JournalAustral Ecology
Pagination830 - 838
Date Published11/2008
AbstractTropical savannas and rainforests contrast in their flammability and the fire resilience of their associated species. While savanna species generally exhibit high resilience to burning, there is much debate about the fire resilience of forest-associated species, and the persistence of forest patches in a flammable savanna matrix. Where fire has been excluded, savanna tends on a trajectory towards forest, with an increase in forest-associated plants and animal species. This study tested the idea that given the high proportion of forest-associated taxa in long-unburnt savanna, the fauna of these areas would be expected to exhibit less resilience to fire than the fauna in frequently burnt savannas. The study investigated the immediate and short-term effects on ant assemblages of re-introducing fire into long-unburnt savanna in northern Australia. The ant fauna exhibited high resistance to fires, with no significant short-term change in mean abundance or species richness; instead, seasonality had a far stronger influence on overall ant activity. Fire caused dramatic declines in dominance of the patchily distributed forest-associated species Oecophylla smaragdina and Papyrius sp., but had no effect on overall dominance by open savanna species of Iridomyrmex. Dominance by Iridomyrmex pallidus declined, but this was compensated for by increases in I. reburrus, while two other species of Iridomyrmex showed no change. This indicates a high level of functional redundancy among dominant species of Iridomyrmex, which universally dominate open savanna communities, but not of dominant forest-associated species. Overall, our findings demonstrate a high degree of fire-resilience of the long-unburnt savanna ant fauna. Despite the occurrence of forest-associated species, the high proportion of savanna species persisting in this habitat means that long-unburnt savanna retains the general response characteristics of frequently burnt savanna.
Refereed DesignationRefereed