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Ant community structure during forest succession in a subtropical forest in South-East China
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Understanding how communities respond to environmental gradients is critical to predict responses of species to changing habitat conditions such as in regenerating secondary habitats after human land use. In this study, ground-living ants were sampled with pitfall traps in 27 plots in a heterogeneous and diverse subtropical forest to test if and how a broad set of environmental variables including elevation, successional age, and tree species richness influence ant diversity and community composition. In total, 13,441 ant individuals belonging to 71 species were found. Ant abundance was unrelated to all environmental variables. Rarefied ant species richness was negatively related to elevation, and Shannon diversity decreased with shrub cover. There was considerable variation in ant species amongst plots, associated with elevation, successional age, and variables related to succession such as shrub cover. It is shown that younger secondary forests may support a species-rich and diverse community of ants in subtropical forests even though the species composition between younger and older forests is markedly different. These findings confirm the conservation value of secondary subtropical forests, which is critical because subtropical forests have been heavily exploited by human activities globally. However, the findings also confirm that old-growth forest should have priority in conservation as it supports a distinct ant community. Our study identifies a set of ant species which are associated with successional age and may thus potentially assist local conservation planning.
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