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Data from: Reciprocal facilitation between large herbivores and ants in a semi-arid grassland

Citation

Li, Xiaofei et al. (2018), Data from: Reciprocal facilitation between large herbivores and ants in a semi-arid grassland, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.s7423sv

Abstract

While positive interactions have been well documented in plant and sessile benthic marine communities, their role in structuring mobile animal communities and underlying mechanisms has been less explored. Using field removal experiments, we demonstrated that a large vertebrate herbivore (cattle; Bos tarurs) and a much smaller invertebrate (ants; Lasius spp.), the two dominant animal taxa in a semi-arid grassland in Northeast China, facilitate each other. Cattle grazing led to higher ant mound abundance compared to ungrazed sites, while the presence of ant mounds increased the foraging of cattle during the peak of the growing season. Mechanistically, these reciprocal positive effects were driven by habitat amelioration and resource (food) enhancement by cattle and ants (respectively). Cattle facilitated ants, likely by decreasing plant litter accumulation by herbivory and trampling, allowing more light to reach the soil surface leading to microclimatic conditions that favor ants. Ants facilitated cattle likely by increasing soil nutrients via bioturbation, increasing food (plant) biomass and quality (N content) for cattle. Our study demonstrates reciprocal facilitative interactions between two animal species from phylogenetically very distant taxa. Such reciprocal positive interactions may be more common in animal communities than so far assumed, and they should receive more attention to improve our understanding of species coexistence and animal community assembly.

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