Climate change brings along trend-like changes as well as changes in the temporal variations in environmental conditions which interact with the biological dynamics of ecological systems. Therefore, only studies covering several decades may unveil long term trends in ecological systems, such as in animal communities. To demonstrate if recent climatic changes have caused fundamental changes in the structure of a key arthropod community, I studied the long-term dynamics of ant colonies for 37 years on a sandy grassland in central Hungary. To be able to monitor colonies – the natural units of ant communities – with the possible least disturbance, I applied two grids of a total of 80 slate plates as artificial nesting sites. Prior to the presented study, a well-defined spatial ant community structure had been identified in the studied habitat, which consisted of three species groups (dune top, transitional and dune slack groups), occupying different habitat patches. During the study period 2813 nests of 11 ant species were recorded under the slates. Over the 37 years, community pattern markedly changed, dune slack species disappeared from the studied plots, while the frequency of drought-tolerant dune top species increased by a significant trend. No significant trend was observed in the case of the transitional species group. On the species population level, two species, Lasius niger and Formica cunicularia, showed an intensive population decline; while the Plagiolepis taurica population significantly increased and spatially joined the transitional species group in the dune slack in the second half of the project. These changes led to a major decline in species richness and a homogenization of species composition across habitat patches. Multiple correlation analyses revealed that the depletion of groundwater had the strongest relationship with these population trends. The study indicates that climate change can be linked to a fundamental change in the community structure of major ecosystem actors.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.