Reciprocal facilitation between large herbivores and ants in a semi-arid grassland

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Li , X , Zhong , Z , Sanders , D , Smit , C , Wang , D , Nummi , P , Zhu , Y , Wang , L , Zhu , H & Hassan , N 2018 , ' Reciprocal facilitation between large herbivores and ants in a semi-arid grassland ' , Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Biological Sciences , vol. 285 , no. 1888 , 20181665 . https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2018.1665

Title: Reciprocal facilitation between large herbivores and ants in a semi-arid grassland
Author: Li, Xiaofei; Zhong, Zhiwei; Sanders, Dirk; Smit, Christian; Wang, Deli; Nummi, Petri; Zhu, Yu; Wang, Ling; Zhu, Hui; Hassan, Nazim
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Department of Forest Sciences
Date: 2018-10-10
Language: eng
Number of pages: 9
Belongs to series: Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Biological Sciences
ISSN: 0962-8452
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/257514
Abstract: While positive interactions have been well documented in plant and sessile benthic marine communities, their role in structuring mobile animal communities and underlying mechanisms has been less explored. Using field removal experiments, we demonstrated that a large vertebrate herbivore (cattle; Bos tarurs) and a much smaller invertebrate (ants; Lasius spp.), the two dominant animal taxa in a semi-arid grassland in Northeast China, facilitate each other. Cattle grazing led to higher ant mound abundance compared with ungrazed sites, while the presence of ant mounds increased the foraging of cattle during the peak of the growing season. Mechanistically, these reciprocal positive effects were driven by habitat amelioration and resource (food) enhancement by cattle and ants (respectively). Cattle facilitated ants, probably by decreasing plant litter accumulation by herbivory and trampling, allowing more light to reach the soil surface leading to microclimatic conditions that favour ants. Ants facilitated cattle probably by increasing soil nutrients via bioturbation, increasing food (plant) biomass and quality (nitrogen content) for cattle. Our study demonstrates reciprocal facilitative interactions between two animal species from phylogenetically very distant taxa. Such reciprocal positive interactions may be more common in animal communities than so far assumed, and they should receive more attention to improve our understanding of species coexistence and animal community assembly.
Subject: facultative mutualism
ecosystem engineering
facilitation
resources availability
indirect effects
soil nutrients
POSITIVE INTERACTIONS
ECOSYSTEM ENGINEERS
PLANT-COMMUNITIES
VEGETATION MOSAICS
SPECIES RICHNESS
COMPETITION
SCALE
DIVERSITY
CATTLE
PERFORMANCE
1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
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