Harvester ants modify seed rain using nest vegetation and granivory

Nancy Nicolai, Bertrand R. Boeken

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations

Abstract

In annual plant communities, the seed bank determines each generation's potential emergence and any factor that influences it could alter community structure. Harvester ants are common seed predators that may cause seed sources and seed rain composition to vary. In semi-arid shrubland of the Negev desert of Israel, we hypothesised that the positive effects of dense vegetation on nests of the harvester ant Messor ebeninus Sant. would outweigh reduction by granivory. To test whether nests were seed sources, we removed vegetation on 10 of 20 sampled nests prior to seeding. We tested the interaction between seed sources and granivory by locating seed traps at three locations: nests, foraging trails, and unvisited areas. Trapped seeds were recorded during spring and summer dispersal. Plant recruitment from the altered seed bank was recorded the following spring. During April, seeds were more abundant near nests than the other locations and at uncut compared with cut nests. Foraging trails had fewer species and higher equitability compared with nests or unvisited areas. May and June to August had highest species richness at nests, but richness of cut and uncut nests were similar. Ordination of plant recruitment showed slightly lower vegetation community variation by diminished species in the cut seed bank. While intact nest vegetation initially had high abundance of locally deposited seeds, it apparently blocked wind-dispersed seeds later in the summer. Conversely, granivory reduced seed species richness only on trails and decreased dominance structure by preferential removal of some species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)24-32
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Entomology
Volume37
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2012

Keywords

  • Ecosystem engineer
  • Insect-plant interactions
  • Messor ebeninus
  • Seed predation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Insect Science

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