Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
An Introduction to Ants (Formicidae)
of the Tallgrass Prairie
Ants and Prairie Restoration
The effects of restoration activity on tallgrass prairie ant populations,
species richness and species composition have never been formally studied.
Indeed, my work represents the first attempt to characterize the ant fauna
of this endangered ecosystem (see also Trager, 1990). Preliminary and informal
observations suggest that the following responses may occur:
- Prairie ants already in a degraded remnant natural area respond with population
increases to restoration activity, especially burning.
- Prairie plantings with old fields or prairie remnants nearby become colonized
by many ants typical of grassland within a few years (Trager, 1990).
- By eliminating woody vegetation and detritus, fire eliminates or reduces
arboreal, litter- and twig-nesting species and shifts dominance from the
genera Camponotus (carpenter ants and relatives, even the soil-nesting
species don't occur in prairie) and Aphaenogaster (numerous woodland
species, only one in prairie) to Formica species (most in the tallgrass
region more abundant in, or virtually restricted to grassland habitat).
Unanswered questions which need scientific research include:
- What is the "full complement" of ant species that might occur in a prairie
tract, and how long might this take to restore or to establish in a planting?
- What are the effects on ant populations of different management treatments
such as haying, mowing, grazing and burns at different seasons?
- What are effective methods for transplanting and ensuring establishment
of remnant-restricted ant species which are unable to disperse to restorations
or to prairie plantings?
- What are the impacts of a healthy ant fauna on establishment of prairie
plants, other insects, and on lizards and other predators of ants?
- What are the characteristics of succession of species in an ant community
in the long and short run, and on restorations versus prairie plantings?
- What effects do ants have on vegetation structure that are different when
ants are lacking?
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