Increased anthropogenic disturbance and aridity reduce phylogenetic and functional diversity of ant communities in Caatinga dry forest

Xavier Arnan*, Gabriela B. Arcoverde, Marcio R. Pie, José D. Ribeiro-Neto, Inara R. Leal

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

67 Citations (Scopus)


Anthropogenic disturbance and climate change are major threats to biodiversity. The Brazilian Caatinga is the world's largest and most diverse type of seasonally dry tropical forest. It is also one of the most threatened, but remains poorly studied. Here, we analyzed the individual and combined effects of anthropogenic disturbance (three types: livestock grazing, wood extraction, and miscellaneous use of forest resources) and increasing aridity on taxonomic, phylogenetic and functional ant diversity in the Caatinga. We found no aridity and disturbance effects on taxonomic diversity. In spite of this, functional diversity, and to a lesser extent phylogenetic diversity, decreased with increased levels of disturbance and aridity. These effects depended on disturbance type: livestock grazing and miscellaneous resource use, but not wood extraction, deterministically filtered both components of diversity. Interestingly, disturbance and aridity interacted to shape biodiversity responses. While aridity sometimes intensified the negative effects of disturbance, the greatest declines in biodiversity were in the wettest areas. Our results imply that anthropogenic disturbance and aridity interact in complex ways to endanger biodiversity in seasonally dry tropical forests. Given global climate change, neotropical semi-arid areas are habitats of concern, and our findings suggest Caatinga conservation policies must prioritize protection of the wettest areas, where biodiversity loss stands to be the greatest. Given the major ecological relevance of ants, declines in both ant phylogenetic and functional diversity might have downstream effects on ecosystem processes, insect populations, and plant populations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-438
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2018


  • Anthropogenic disturbance
  • Ants
  • Caatinga
  • Climate change
  • Environmental filtering
  • Functional diversity
  • Morphological traits
  • Phylogenetic diversity
  • Rainfall


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