Ant nests increase litter decomposition to mitigate the negative effect of warming in an alpine grassland ecosystem

Binyu Luo, Mei Huang, Wenyin Wang, Jiahuan Niu, Mani Shrestha, Haijun Zeng, Lin Ma, A. Allan Degen, Jingkang Liao, Tao Zhang, Yanfu Bai, Jingxue Zhao, Lauchlan H. Fraser, Zhanhuan Shang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Warming can decrease feeding activity of soil organisms and affect biogeochemical cycles. The ant Formica manchu is active on the nest surface and prefers a hot, dry environment; therefore, warming may provide a favourable environment for its activities. We hypothesized that F. manchu benefit from warming and mitigate the negative effects of warming on litter decomposition. We examined the effects of ant nests (nest absence versus nest presence) and warming (+1.3 and +2.3°C) on litter decomposition, soil properties and the plant community in alpine grassland. Decomposition stations with two mesh sizes were used to differentiate effects of microorganisms (0.05 mm) and macroinvertebrates (1 cm) on decomposition. Ant nests increased litter decomposition with and without macroinvertebrates accessing the decomposition station when compared to plots without ant nests. Only litter decomposition in ant nests with macroinvertebrates having access to the decomposition station was not affected negatively by warming. Plots with ant nests had greater soil carbon, nutrient contents and plant growth than plots without ant nests, regardless of warming. Our results suggest that ant nests maintain ecosystem processes and functions under warming. Consequently, a management strategy in alpine grasslands should include the protection of these ants and ant nests.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20230613
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number2001
StatePublished - 28 Jun 2023


  • ecological engineer
  • ecosystem function
  • ecosystem process
  • feeding activity
  • nutrient cycling
  • soil disturbance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)
  • Environmental Science (all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology (all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)


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