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Using Ants as bioindicators: Multiscale Issues in Ant Community Ecology

Alan Andersen, Wildlife and Ecology, CSIRO Tropical Ecosystems Research Centre

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Abstract

Ecological patterns and processes are characteristically scale dependent, and research
findings often cannot be translated easily from one scale to another. Conservation biology is challenged by a lack of congruence between the spatial scales of ecological research (typically involving small plots) and land management (typically involving whole landscapes). Here, I discuss spatial scaling issues as they relate to an understanding of ant communities and, consequently, their use as bioindicators in land management. Our perceptions of fundamental patterns and processes in ant communities depend on scale: taxa that are behaviorally dominant at one scale are not necessarily so at others, functional groups recognized at one scale are often inappropriate for others, and the role of competition in community structure depends on the scale of analysis. Patterns of species richness and composition, and the ability of total richness to be estimated by surrogates, are all also scale dependent. Ant community ecology has a tradition of detailed studies in small plots, but the use of ants as bioindicators requires a predictive understanding of community structure and dynamics at a range of spatial scales. Such an appreciation of ant communities and their most effective use as bioindicators is best served by studies integrating results from plot-scale research with the broad-scale paradigms of biogeography, systematics, and evolutionary biology.

Key words

ants; biodiversity surrogacy; bioindicators; community; diversity patterns; functional groups; multiscale; spatial scale.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087