Climate change and fire suppression have facilitated expansion of pinyon-juniper woodlands into sagebrush-steppe ecosystems of the Great Basin, USA, resulting in a loss of biological diversity. To assess the effects of using prescribed fire in restoration efforts, ant abundance, species richness, and composition were examined pre- and post-burn along the elevation and tree cover gradients encompassed by a pinyon-juniper woodland in a central Nevada watershed. Ants were sampled using pitfall traps in 6 sites for the elevation study and in 2 sites for the tree cover study, representing paired burn and control sites in a randomized block design. Vegetation and ground cover variables were also sampled to determine how variation in ant populations was correlated with differences in vegetation and ground cover. Ant species richness remained unchanged for all treatments. Tree cover had no significant effect on ant populations. Significantly more ants were trapped after the burn treatment on burn plots. Variation in ant populations was not directly correlated with any of the vegetation or ground cover variables. According to ANOVA and multivariate analyses, elevation had the greatest effect on changes in ant communities, likely due to increased moisture availability. Our results suggest that management for conservation of sagebrush-steppe ecosystems in this and similar watersheds should include a range of elevations to ensure maximum ant species diversity.
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Vol. 67 • No. 4