Ant Communities Respond To a Large-Scale Disturbance Along an Elevational Gradient In Puerto Rico, U.S.A.

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Biological Sciences


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


Large scale disturbances are known to significantly alter aspects of both species diversity and ecosystem function. In the Caribbean, hurricane events are a significant form of disturbance, the effects of which have been shown to alter food web function, especially in the terrestrial environment. Although hurricanes have been studied from a variety of their effects on ecosystems, there is little research on how these storms affect species along elevational gradients. Within terrestrial habitats, ants form the basis of many food webs, being both numerically dominant and functioning in a variety of roles within the food web. On September 20th, 2017 Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm, crossed over the island of Puerto Rico, causing significant damage to both human and natural systems. We collected data on ant abundance and composition from 150 samples of leaf litter along a 700 m elevational gradient during June the year of and after the storm event. Ant abundance increased by 400% after the storm with many common ant species seeming to benefit, especially at lower elevations. There were subtle changes in ant richness, with declines generally after the storm, but yet again this response was dependent on elevation. This is one of the first studies to consider how terrestrial insect communities are affected by large hurricane events across elevations, and our results are in contrast to past work showing declines in ant abundance after such storms.

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