Stability of Afromontane ant diversity decreases across an elevation gradient
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As the need to better understand the ecology of hotspots of endemism intensifies, the insurance hypothesis is drawing increasing attention from policy-makers and scenario-planners. The hypothesis states that biodiversity increases ecosystem stability. When species numbers fluctuate, there is potential for further perturbation, loss of function and increased opportunity for invasive species to fill vacated niches. Southern Africa is predicted to be disproportionately impacted by global change, and high altitude systems as foci of endemism are particularly vulnerable to warming. Using ants, a group key to ecosystem function, we assess effects of temperature, season, aspect, vegetation and soil conditions on montane ant species richness, stability of ant community composition, and stability of ant species richness across an altitude gradient. Over six consecutive years of bi-annual sampling, we gathered one of the largest standardized data sets to date. We showed for the first time that stability of ant species richness decreases with increasing altitude, whilst compositional similarity of ant communities is higher with increasing altitude. Findings reveal more similar, species-poor, less stable ant communities at high altitude at the same sites over time.
- RESEARCH: Foord, S