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The distribution and abundance variation of the terrestrial ants, Lasiophanes picinus and Lasiophanes valdiviensis Emery (Formicinae: Lasiini), which are endemic in Patagonia (Argentina and Chile), are described and a set of environmental factors are examined to explain the observed patterns. Ants were collected using 450 pitfall traps arranged in 50, 100 m2 grid plots each with nine traps within a roughly 150 × 150 km area representative of the subantartic-patagonian transition of Argentina. Five sampling periods each 8-days long were carried out between November 2004 and March 2006. To understand the distributional patterns and their link to environmental variables discriminant analysis was used. Path analysis was performed to test for direct and indirect effects of a set of environmental variables on species abundance variation. L. picinus was more frequently captured and attained higher abundance in the forests, while L. valdiviensis was more frequently captured and more abundant in the scrubs. The maximum daily temperature and mean annual precipitation explained L. picinus distribution (i.e. presence or absence) with an accuracy of 90%. L. valdiviensis distribution was predicted with almost 70% accuracy, taking into account herbal richness. The maximum daily temperature was the only climatic variable that affected ant abundance directly; an increase in temperature led to an increase of L. picinus abundance and a decrease of L. valdiviensis abundance. The amount of resources, as indicated by the percent plant cover, explained the variation of the abundance of both species better than the variety of resources as indicated by plant richness (i.e. models including plant richness had low fit or no fit at all). A direct effect of habitat use by cattle was found, as indicated by the amount of feces in the plots, only when variables related to the amount of resources were replaced by variables with less explanatory power related to the variety of resources. This study provides new data on the ecology of Lasiophanes species in relation to existing hypotheses proposed to explain patterns of abundance variation. Evidence is provided that changes in temperature (i.e. global climate change) may have important consequences on populations of these species.
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