Vegetation structure, ecological stability, and low-disturbance regime of abandoned dry grasslands support specific ant assemblages in Central Slovakia

TUEXENIA (Impact Factor: 1.56). 02/2011; 31:301-315.

ABSTRACT Compared to other grassland types across Slovakia, dry grasslands harbour species-rich and specialised ant communities. High diversity and species richness of ants may be seen as a consequence of (i) the specific structure of dry grassland vegetation, (ii) long-term ecological stability, and (iii) cur-rently low or absent management-induced disturbance. With special regard to dry grasslands, we report on structural characteristics of vegetation and low-disturbance regime, which contribute to ant assem-blage structure. Our study was carried out in the Štiavnické Vrchy Mts. (Central Slovakia), a region with a historically well-developed grassland area. We established a set of 25 research plots within south-orientated grassland habitats representing five different grassland types: wet managed and wet aban-doned grasslands, mesic managed and mesic abandoned grasslands (Arrhenatherion elatioris), and dry abandoned grassland habitats (Asplenio-Festucion glaucae). Each habitat type was represented by five plots. At each plot, a set of ten pitfall traps was used to sample ground-foraging ant assemblages. Around each trap, structural characteristics of vegetation and microhabitat were assessed. Dry grasslands were shown to have a specific microhabitat structure, characterised by the presence of a well-developed moss and lichen layer, exposed bedrock, bare soil, and significantly lower, although species-rich vege -tation. Besides the specific microhabitat structure, the absence of management may have contributed to the distinctiveness of these ant assemblages compared to those associated with other grassland categories. Ant assemblages were more species-rich, and the activity of ants was higher in recently abandoned grassland habitats. The effect of abandonment was quite opposite for plants, whose species-richness was, contrary to ants, higher within managed sites. Zusammenfassung: Vegetationsstruktur, ökologische Stabilität und Störungsregime geringer Intensität im aufgelassenen Trockengrasland begünstigen spezifische Ameisengesellschaften in der Mittelslowakei Im Vergleich mit anderen Graslandtypen der Slowakei beherbergt Trockengrasland artenreiche und spezialisierte Ameisengesellschaften. Die hohe Diversität sowie der Artenreichtum an Ameisen können als eine Folge (i) der spezifischen Struktur der Trockengrasland-Vegetation, (ii) langfristiger ökologi-scher Stabilität und (iii) aktueller geringer oder ganz fehlender Störungsintensität durch Bewirtschaf-tung angesehen werden. Mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des Trockengraslandes berichten wir über strukturelle Charakteristika der Vegetation und Störungsregime niedriger Intensität, welche zur Struk-tur der Ameisengesellschaften beitragen. Unsere Studie wurde in den Schemnitzer Bergen (Štiavnické Vrchy, Mittelslowakei) durchgeführt, einer Region mit historisch gut entwickelten Graslandflächen. Ein Set von 25 Untersuchungsflächen (Plots) wurde in südexponierten Graslandhabitaten eingerichtet, welche fünf unterschiedliche Graslandtypen repräsentieren: Bewirtschaftete und aufgelassene Feucht-wiesen, bewirtschaftetes und aufgelassenes mesisches Grasland (Arrhenatherion elatioris) sowie aufge-lassenes Trockengrasland (Asplenio-Festucion glaucae). Jeder Habitattyp ist durch fünf Plots repräsen-tiert. Auf jedem Plot wurde ein Set von zehn Barber-Fallen (Bodenfallen) benutzt, um am Boden jagen-de Ameisengesellschaften zu beproben. Rund um jede Falle wurden strukturelle Vegetations-und Mikrohabitat-Charakteristika erfasst. Es wurde gezeigt, dass Trockengrasland eine spezifische Mikro -habitatstruktur besitzt, die durch das reichliche Vorhandensein einer Moos-und Flechtenschicht, anste-hendes Gestein, offenen Boden und eine signifikant niedrigere wiewohl artenreiche Vegetation charak-terisiert ist. Neben der spezifischen Mikrohabitatstruktur trägt wohl das Fehlen von Bewirtschaftung zur Besonderheit dieser Ameisengesellschaften im Vergleich mit denjenigen der anderen Graslandkate-gorien bei. Jüngst aufgelassene Graslandhabitate wiesen artenreichere Ameisengesellschaften und eine höhere Aktivität der Ameisen auf. Der Effekt der Stilllegung war recht gegensätzlich für Pflanzenarten, welche, im Gegensatz zu Ameisenarten, mehr Arten in bewirtschafteten Flächen aufwiesen.

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