We assessed species richness and composition of ant assemblages in adjacent montane forest and secondary (anthropogenic) grassland habitats in the central plateau of Madagascar. We used five quantitative methods (leaf litter sifting, two types of pitfall traps, beating low vegetation, and soil digging) and compared methods within and across habitats. Sample-based and occurrence-based accumulation curves demonstrated that the efficiency of ant inventory methods is habitat specific. Litter sifting, however, was the single most efficient method in both habitats. Overall, our analyses of the relative efficiency of methods recommend the use of sifting and beating in the montane forest site, and sifting alone in the grassland site. In four of five methods, more species were collected in the grassland site (31 spp.) than in the forest site (26 spp.). Occurrence-based accumulation curves based on all methods demonstrated that species richness was similar in the two habitats, reaching a maximum difference of approximately one species. Only five species were shared between the grassland and forest sites. The presence of a high number of ant species restricted to the grassland site (18 spp.) is the first record of high endemism in this habitat in Madagascar and may have strong implications for the reconstruction of the natural vegetation types at the time humans arrived. Their presence suggests that a comparable open habitat, such as montane woodland, shrubland, or thicket, was present on Madagascar long before humans developed the secondary grasslands less than 2000 years ago. These results are contrary to the “classical hypothesis” that the central plateau was a continuous region of closed forest. These results support the hypothesis that the montane regions, including the central plateau, once contained areas of habitat with an open structure and that the endemic ants now found in the secondary grasslands were originally native to such a habitat.
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Vol. 34 • No. 1