Long-term development of ant assemblages of recultivated woodland and free-succession open-land habitats in a former strip mining area
Ant assemblages in two woodland recultivations, one semi-natural forest and three open habitats in free succession were investigated in the former strip mining area of Berzdorf near Görlitz / Germany in 1997 / 98 and 2017. Seven structural and six physico-chemical habitat parameters, including mean and maximum calibrated soil temperatures were recorded numerically. Vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens were collected for estimation of soil moisture, nutrient and calcium figures. A four-partite search method (integrating scrutiny-, quick-, spot-inspection- as well as large-scale search) resulted in 373 ant nests, belonging to 9 genera and 23 species. Fourty five years after afforestation, ant assemblages in afforestions on spoil heaps showed 74 % typical woodland species and 5 % typical open-land species remaining from earliest successional stages. The long survival of the latter appears remarkable as epigaean habitat structure and microclimate of the plots showed a clear woodland character already 22 years after afforestation. Sixty five years after afforestation, typical woodland species had increased their share to 93 % and typical open-land species had completely vanished. The retarded immigration of typical woodland species after 65 years is explained through restrictions by dependent colony foundation, requirement for increased tree trunk diameters, and a weaker long-range dispersal capacity. The two afforestation plots showed 65 years after initiation only 50 % of the species richness and nest density of the semi-natural woodland which indicates the long time span needed for completion of ant assemblages. Within 20 years of observation, the development of ant assemblages on the study plots left in free succession from an open-land situation was largely determined by physico-chemical factors and to a lesser degree by structural changes. High soil moisture, good nutrient supply and low soil temperatures reduced species richness. The opposite conditions, as found in the strongly sun-exposed erosion area on basaltic tuff, prevented shrub encroachment and the upgrowth of a high and dense herb layer and allowed a development from a very poor ant-assemblage with few pionier species into a very rich open-land ant community of high value for nature conservation.
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