Disturbances induce changes on habitat proprieties that may filter organism's functional traits thereby shaping the structure and interactions of many trophic levels. We tested if communities of predators with foraging traits dependent on habitat structure respond to environmental change through cascades affecting the functional traits of plants. We monitored the response of spider and plant communities to fire in South Brazilian Grasslands using pairs of burned and unburned plots. Spiders were determined to the family level and described in feeding behavioral and morphological traits measured on each individual. Life form and morphological traits were recorded for plant species. One month after fire the abundance of vegetation hunters and the mean size of the chelicera increased due to the presence of suitable feeding sites in the regrowing vegetation, but irregular web builders decreased due to the absence of microhabitats and dense foliage into which they build their webs. Six months after fire rosette-form plants with broader leaves increased, creating a favourable habitat for orb web builders which became more abundant, while graminoids and tall plants were reduced, resulting in a decrease of proper shelters and microclimate in soil surface to ground hunters which became less abundant. Hence, fire triggered changes in vegetation structure that lead both to trait-convergence and trait-divergence assembly patterns of spiders along gradients of plant biomass and functional diversity. Spider individuals occurring in more functionally diverse plant communities were more diverse in their traits probably because increased possibility of resource exploitation, following the habitat heterogeneity hypothesis. Finally, as an indication of resilience, after twelve months spider communities did not differ from those of unburned plots. Our findings show that functional traits provide a mechanistic understanding of the response of communities to environmental change, especially when more than one trophic level is considered.
Grazing exclusion may lead to biodiversity loss and homogenization of naturally heterogeneous and species-rich grassland ecosystems, and these effects may cascade to higher trophic levels and ecosystem properties. Although grazing exclusion has been studied elsewhere, the consequences of alleviating the disturbance regime in grassland ecosystems remain unclear. In this paper, we present results of the first five years of an experiment in native grasslands of southern Brazil. Using a randomized block experimental design, we examined the effects of three grazing treatments on plant and arthropod communities: (i) deferred grazing (i.e., intermittent grazing), (ii) grazing exclusion and (iii) a control under traditional continuous grazing, which were applied to 70 x 70 m experimental plots, in six regionally distributed blocks. We evaluated plant community responses regarding taxonomic and functional diversity (life-forms) in separate spatial components: alpha (1 x 1 m subplots), beta, and gamma (70 x 70 m plots), as well as the cascading effects on arthropod high-taxa. By estimating effect sizes (treatments vs. control) by bootstrap resampling, both deferred grazing and grazing exclusion mostly increased vegetation height, plant biomass and standing dead biomass. The effect of grazing exclusion on plant taxonomic diversity was negative. Conversely, deferred grazing increased plant taxonomic diversity, but both treatments reduced plant functional diversity. Reduced grazing pressure in both treatments promoted the break of dominance by prostrate species, followed by fast homogenization of vegetation structure towards dominance of ligneous and erect species. These changes in the plant community led to increases in high-taxa richness and abundance of vegetationdwelling arthropod groups under both treatments, but had no detectable effects on epigeic arthropods. Our results indicate that decision-making regarding the conservation of southern Brazil grasslands should include both intensive and alleviated levels of grazing
The araneofauna of the Neotropical region can be considered undersurveyed and lacking standardized inventories that can be used as a base for biodiversity studies. Spiders are recognized as important components of forest ecosystems and appear to be good organisms for studies concerning biodiversity standards. A survey was carried out in the Parque Estadual do Turvo, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil to determine the richness and composition of the spider fauna. The Park is a protection area that includes the only remainder of the Floresta do Alto Uruguai in Brazil. Four expeditions were conducted over the period of two years, in Spring and Autumn (2003-2005). The main sampling technique was the beating tray, sampling the vegetation along the trails inside the park. Additionally, pitfall-traps, Winckler extractors, nocturnal manual collecting and random samplings were used. Shannon-Wiener (H') diversity indices and rarefaction curves were calculated for the beating tray samplings. A total of 8724 spiders belonging to 37 families were collected. Of these, 34% (2946) were adults, distributed in 31 families, 157 genera and 447 morphospecies. The richest families were Salticidae (23%) followed by Araneidae (18%), Theridiidae (16%) and Thomisidae (9%). In the beating tray samples 29 families were recorded. The most abundant families (including young individuals) were Salticidae (23%), Araneidae (18%), Thomisidae (14%), Theridiidae (12%) and Anyphaenidae (12%). Nineteen species presented a percentage higher than 1% of the total of collected adult individuals. The most abundant being Thwaitesia affinis O. P.-Cambridge, 1881 (Theridiidae), Tariona sp.1 (Salticidae) and Misumenops argenteus (Mello-Leitão, 1929) (Thomisidae). The Spring periods revealed more adult individuals and species and the Shannon-Wiener (H') diversity was considered higher in the periods of Autumn. The rarefaction curves did not reach asymptote, suggesting the existence of non-sampled species. The spider richness registered in this survey is the greatest observed for Rio Grande do Sul, and the second greatest for Brazil. These information show the importance of this ecosystem for biodiversity conservation in Brazil.Keywords: spiders, inventory, Neotropical, biodiversity. A região Neotropical é considerada pouco amostrada com relação à sua araneofauna, carecendo de inventários padronizados que possam servir de base para estudos de biodiversidade. As aranhas são consideradas como importantes componentes dos ecossistemas florestais e aparentam ser organismos ideais para estudos de padrões de biodiversidade. Neste estudo foi efetuado um levantamento da riqueza e composição da fauna de aranhas do Parque Estadual do Turvo, Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil, local que protege o único remanescente representativo da Floresta do Alto Uruguai no Brasil. Foram realizadas quatro expedições semestrais, durante dois anos, no outono e na primavera (2003)(2004)(2005). Como principal técnica de coleta foi empregado o guarda-chuva entomológico, com o qual amostou-se a vegetação arbór...
Habitat loss is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity, exerting negative effects on the ecological viability of natural vegetation remnants. The south Brazilian grasslands belong to one of the largest temperate grassland regions in the world, but have lost 50% of their natural extent in the past 35 years. To date, there is no empirical evidence for the effects of habitat loss on these grasslands' biological diversity, undermining their conservation. Using data from a large‐scale biodiversity survey, we asked if local plant communities respond to levels of habitat loss representative of the entire region (≤50%). Vegetation in grassland remnants was sampled in 24 landscapes at three localities each, using nine plots per locality. To investigate whether species losses were a consequence of stochastic or nonrandom local extinctions and whether plant communities became more homogenized, we evaluated species richness, beta‐diversity components (spatial turnover and nestedness), and phylogenetic diversity, in respect to landscape change. In part of the landscapes, arthropods were sampled to investigate if loss of plant diversity had a cascading effect on other trophic levels. We evaluated generic richness of ants, an omnivore group with high levels of plant associations, in respect to a plant community's phylogenetic diversity. Local plant communities in landscapes with less grassland cover had fewer species, less spatial turnover, increased nestedness and lower phylogenetic diversity. Our results suggest that the observed species loss can be linked to taxonomic homogenization and is nonrandom, decreasing evolutionary diversity within the community. Furthermore, ant richness declined by 50% in plant communities with the lowest phylogenetic diversity, suggesting that effects of habitat loss propagate to higher trophic levels. Policy implications. We conclude that the biological diversity of south Brazilian grasslands, at the producer and consumer level, is at risk under the current rate of land‐use conversion, even at habitat losses below 50%. To avoid substantial biodiversity loss, conservation and more restrictive policies for conversion of native grasslands to different land uses in South Brazil are urgently needed.
Understanding biological community distribution patterns and their drivers across different scales is one of the major goals of community ecology in a rapidly changing world. Considering natural forest-grassland ecotones distributed over the south Brazilian region we investigated how ant communities are assembled locally, i.e. considering different habitats, and regionally, i.e. considering different physiographic regions. We used taxonomic and phylogenetic approaches to investigate diversity patterns and search for environmental/spatial drivers at each scale. We sampled ants using honey and tuna baits in forest and grassland habitats, in ecotones distributed at nine sites in Rio Grande do Sul state, Brazil. Overall, we found 85 ant species belonging to 23 genera and six subfamilies. At the local scale, we found forests and grasslands as equivalent in ant species and evolutionary history diversities, but considerably different in terms of species composition. In forests, the soil surface air temperature predicts foraging ant diversity. In grasslands, while the height of herbaceous vegetation reduces ant diversity, treelet density from forest expansion processes clearly increases it. At a regional scale, we did not find models that sufficiently explained ant taxonomic and phylogenetic diversity based on regional environmental variables. The variance in species composition, but not in evolutionary histories, across physiographic regions is driven by space and historical processes. Our findings unveil important aspects of ant community ecology in natural transition systems, indicating environmental filtering as an important process structuring the communities at the local scale, but mostly spatial processes acting at the regional scale.
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