Effects of wildland fire on ant community structure and colonization of the Valles Caldera National Preserve, New Mexico



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During the past century, the frequency of natural fires throughout much of the United States of America has been reduced. The suppression of fire in many ecosystems has led to an increase in fuel loads and more recently, large, high intensity wildfires. Many studies have evaluated the impact of wildland fire on ant communities; however, few have examined fire severity. In this study, I examined how habitat type, time since fire, and burn severity influence ant community structure and colonization at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. Pitfall traps were established shortly after the Las Conchas wildfire (2011) and sampled every three weeks, from May to November from 2011-2015. Analysis of the data showed ant species richness declined over a three-year period in the highest severity sites. Low severity and unburned sites increased in species richness one-year post fire. Ant abundance increased over the course of three years in unburned sites, with decreases over the three years among all fire severities. In the aftermath of wildfire, large amounts of dead woody debris are created. Coarse woody debris is an important habitat component for many species, including the Jemez Mountains Salamander (Plethodon neomexicanus), a federally endangered, endemic species, native to the Valles Caldera National Preserve. I exposed logs to three levels of fire treatment to evaluate the colonization of charred woody debris by ants. After one year, I found ant colonization of logs was low in both burned and unburned areas. I also found no differences in ant colonization of charred woody debris and woody debris that had no exposure to fire.



Ants, Formicidae, Fire