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Above- and below-ground effects of an ecosystem engineer ant in Mediterranean dry grasslands

Abstract : Within a local assemblage, ecosystem engineers can have major impacts on population dynamics, community composition and ecosystem functions by transforming or creating new habitats. They act as an ecological filter altering community composition through a set of environmental variables. The impact of ants on their environment has been widely studied, but their multi-component effects (both trophic and non-trophic) have been rarely addressed. We investigated the roles of Messor barbarus, one of the common-est harvester ant species in southwestern European Mediterranean grasslands. We analysed soil physico-chemical parameters, above-ground vegetation (e.g. species richness, plant community, micro-local heterogeneity, plant biomass) and above-and below-ground fauna (macrofauna, Collem-bola, Acari and nematodes). A clear and strong local impact of M. barbarus on soil, vegetation and fauna compartments emerges. The environmental filter is altered by modifications to soil physico-chemical properties, and the biotic filter by changes to plant communities and altered above-and below-ground fauna abundance, occurrence and community structure. The engineering activity of M. barbarus affects not only these separate ecosystem components but also the trophic and non-trophic relationships between them. By altering ecological filters at a local scale, M. barbarus creates habitat heterogeneity that may in turn increase ecological niches in these highly diverse ecosystems.
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Submitted on : Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 8:46:58 AM
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T. de Almeida, Francois Mesleard, M. Santonja, Raphaël Gros, T. Dutoit, et al.. Above- and below-ground effects of an ecosystem engineer ant in Mediterranean dry grasslands. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Royal Society, The, 2020, 287 (1935), pp.20201840. ⟨10.1098/rspb.2020.1840⟩. ⟨hal-02946514⟩

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