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Historical biogeography shapes contemporary ecology: inter-continental contrasts in the community ecology and macroecology of savanna ants
  • Alan Andersen,
  • Heraldo Vasconcelos
Alan Andersen
Charles Darwin University School of Environment

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Heraldo Vasconcelos
Universidade Federal de Uberlandia
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Abstract

Biogeographic history is an under-appreciated factor influencing the ecology of biological communities and their macroecological patterns. We show how contrasting biogeographic histories of tropical savannas in Australia, Brazil and Africa have led to functionally distinct ant faunas that display contrasting responses to environmental stress and disturbance. Australian savannas evolved in association with a desert biome and its fauna is strongly arid adapted; high diversity is maintained with increasing aridity and communities are highly resilient to frequent fire. Brazilian savannas evolved surrounded by rainforest and has a forest-derived; diversity declines with increasing aridity and communities are far more sensitive to fire. Africa has a highly generalized ant fauna that is resilient to fire but diversity declines with increasing aridity. Such intercontinental differences have important implications for understanding biodiversity responses to land management, because the same management action can have different consequences in different regions. It also means that communities in different regions are likely to have markedly different responses to climate change. Our analysis of savanna ants suggests that biogeographic history should be given more attention in comparative studies of community ecology and macroecology.