Species richness, equitability, and abundance of ants in disturbed landscapes

John H. Graham, Anthony J. Krzysik, David A. Kovacic, Jeffrey J. Duda, D. Carl Freeman, John M. Emlen, John C. Zak, W. Russell Long, Michael P. Wallace, Catherine Chamberlin-Graham, Jonathan P. Nutter, Hal E. Balbach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Ants are used as indicators of environmental change in disturbed landscapes, often without adequate understanding of their response to disturbance. Ant communities in the southeastern United States displayed a hump-backed species richness curve against an index of landscape disturbance. Forty sites at Fort Benning, in west-central Georgia, covered a spectrum of habitat disturbance (military training and fire) in upland forest. Sites disturbed by military training had fewer trees, less canopy cover, more bare ground, and warmer, more compact soils with shallower A-horizons. We sampled ground-dwelling ants with pitfall traps, and measured 15 habitat variables related to vegetation and soil. Ant species richness was greatest with a relative disturbance of 43%, but equitability was greatest with no disturbance. Ant abundance was greatest with a relative disturbance of 85%. High species richness at intermediate disturbance was associated with greater within-site spatial heterogeneity. Species richness was also associated with intermediate values of the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI), a correlate of net primary productivity (NPP). Available NPP (the product of NDVI and the fraction of days that soil temperature exceeded 25 °C), however, was positively correlated with species richness, though not with ant abundance. Species richness was unrelated to soil texture, total ground cover, and fire frequency. Ant species richness and equitability are potential state indicators of the soil arthropod community. Moreover, equitability can be used to monitor ecosystem change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)866-877
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Indicators
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2009


  • Disturbance
  • Equitability
  • Fire
  • Formicidae
  • Military training
  • Spatial heterogeneity
  • Species richness


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