Ants as indicators of soil-based ecosystem services in agroecosystems of the Colombian Llanos
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Ants represent a widespread and functionally diverse taxonomic group that are both sensitive to land management and serve as important regulators of key soil processes. Building upon this idea, we sought to understand the impacts of agricultural management on ant communities in the Orinoco River Basin of eastern Colombia and to identify species that could be used as indicators of soil-based ecosystem services. Ants were collected and identified from the soil and litter layer within 75 fields (nine TSBF subsamples along a transect in each field) divided among five common agricultural land uses in the region: 1) annual crops (maize, soy and rice), 2) rubber plantations, 3) oil palm plantations, 4) improved pastures (based on Brachiaria spp.), and 5) semi-natural savannas. As expected, land management was found to greatly influence ant communities. Improved pastures showed the highest species richness (6.9 species per transect) and semi-natural savanna the greatest abundance of ants (145 individuals per transect). Within each of these fields a suite of soil and agroecosystem characteristics were measured and combined into synthetic indicators of five soil-based ecosystem services: 1) nutrient provision, 2) water storage and regulation, 3) maintenance of soil structure, 4) climate regulation services and 5) soil biodiversity and biological activity. Ant species were then associated with these synthetic indicators using the IndVal method to identify indicator species for each of the five consolidated ecosystem services measured. In total, 14 indicator species were identified and found to be significantly associated with either the high or low provision of each of the five services. The development of such bioindicators offers a rapid and relatively inexpensive tool to facilitate land management and policy decisions in this biologically diverse and rapidly changing region of Colombia. (C) 2014 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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