The effects of a burrowing, small carnivore guild on the ant (Family Formicidae) assemblages in the Great Fish River Reserve, South Africa: species diversity and abundance.
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Terrestrial invertebrate biodiversity is renowned to be a useful biological indicator of change in the status quo of our natural environment. In other words, they have grown to be a useful biological instrument of determining the stability and the proper functioning of a natural ecosystem. This means that in their abundance and diversity, they denote the integrity of the bionetwork. Natural and unnatural disturbances may lead to habitat degradation, resulting in a substantial loss in biodiversity. This drastic loss may dismantle the proper functioning of world ecosystems, and hinder the output rates of its services, which may be threatening to human existence. Data collection for this study took place at the Great Fish River Reserve located in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, between Grahamstown and Alice (33º11’S 28º38’E). The purpose of the study was to determine what impact small carnivores have on the abundance and species richness of ants on termite mounds (which had to have a length ≥5m). Many small carnivores make use of these termiteria as places of refuge and they also feed on the insects in and around these mounds. Pitfall trapping system was used to census ant species diversity and abundance at three different habitats that were randomly selected according to traces of activity (scats, fresh burrowing, etc) observed, and six sites were selected for each habitat type. The traps were placed in a 3X4 grid pattern. The plastic jars, containing propylene glycol, were left out for 5 days and the ants were preserved in 70% ethanol on collection. Of the three “habitats”, one was situated out in the grassland, as a control, to make comparisons. A total amount of 2135 ants, belonging to 28 species were collected from all 18 sites. For analysis, diversity indices (Shannon-Weiner, Simpson’s and Pielou’s evenness indices) and species richness were calculated. Species rank abundance curves will be represented for each site (an accumulation of species in the traps at each site, per “habitat”, will be calculated to show the total number of species recorded for this sampling method). Multivariate statistical analyses (hierarchical clustering, Multi-dimensional scaling ordination, analysis of similarity and similarity percentages) were employed to test and observe if there is any difference in species abundance and diversity within the site and the relationship between the sites in their respective habitats. Many predictions can be made on why the Active mound (control) habitat had the highest number of individuals and the most species. It is acceptable to conclude that the association of small, burrowing carnivores is not necessarily disadvantageous and the implications that this may have on invertebrate conservation and the management of the reserve as a whole may be a rewarding endeavour to explore.