Dynamics of the Leaf-Litter Arthropod Fauna Following Fire in a Neotropical Woodland Savanna


Fire is an important agent of disturbance in tropical savannas, but relatively few studies have analyzed how soil-and-litter dwelling arthropods respond to fire disturbance despite the critical role these organisms play in nutrient cycling and other biogeochemical processes. Following the incursion of a fire into a woodland savanna ecological reserve in Central Brazil, we monitored the dynamics of litter-arthropod populations for nearly two years in one burned and one unburned area of the reserve. We also performed a reciprocal transplant experiment to determine the effects of fire and litter type on the dynamics of litter colonization by arthropods. Overall arthropod abundance, the abundance of individual taxa, the richness of taxonomic groups, and the species richness of individual taxa (Formiciade) were lower in the burned site. However, both the ordinal-level composition of the litter arthropod fauna and the species-level composition of the litter ant fauna were not dramatically different in the burned and unburned sites. There is evidence that seasonality of rainfall interacts with fire, as differences in arthropod abundance and diversity were more pronounced in the dry than in the wet season. For many taxa the differences in abundance between burned and unburned sites were maintained even when controlling for litter availability and quality. In contrast, differences in abundance for Collembola, Formicidae, and Thysanoptera were only detected in the unmanipulated samples, which had a lower amount of litter in the burned than in the unburned site throughout most of our study period. Together these results suggest that arthropod density declines in fire-disturbed areas as a result of direct mortality, diminished resources (i.e., reduced litter cover) and less favorable microclimate (i.e., increased litter desiccation due to reduction in tree cover). Although these effects were transitory, there is evidence that the increasingly prevalent fire return interval of only 1–2 years may jeopardize the long-term conservation of litter arthropod communities.

PLoS ONE, (4), 11, pp. e7762, https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0007762