Harvester Ant Seed Removal in an Invaded Sagebrush Ecosystem: Implications for Restoration

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Seed removal by granivores, such as rodents and ants, influences plant distributions and abundance, and may favor invading exotic plants if granivores selectively remove seeds of native species. 

University and USGS researchers studied Owyhee harvester ant selectivity for four plant species commonly used in sagebrush restoration. They quantified seed removal and evaluated ecological factors influencing seed removal within degraded sagebrush-steppe in southwestern Idaho. The researchers studied how harvester ants nesting across a gradient of cheatgrass invasion influenced removal of seeds presented near nests. Seed removal was positively correlated with nest height, an indicator of colony size. Distance to seeds and cheatgrass canopy cover reduced seed removal. Harvester ants removed Indian ricegrass more than other species presented. Ants from densely aggregated nests (15 nests per 0.25 hectare) could remove roughly 30,000 seeds a month. Collectively, these results emphasize harvester ants’ potential influence on postfire restoration within invaded sagebrush communities.  

Paolini, K.E., Modlin, M., Suazo, A.A., Pilliod, D.S., Arkle, R.S., Vierling, K.T., Holbrook, J.D., 2020, Harvester ant seed removal in an invaded sagebrush ecosystem- Implications for restoration: Ecology and Evolution, https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.6963 

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Date published: November 27, 2017
Status: Active

Wildlife Ecology and Conservation Biology Team (FRESC)

Wildlife respond to changes in their environment, some of which are dramatic and others subtle. To fully understand the factors that drive changes in populations and communities, we need better information on wildlife ecology in natural and human-altered landscapes. We conduct research and provide technical assistance to address applied questions about the ecology and conservation of wildlife...

Contacts: David S Pilliod