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

Li, X., Zhong, Z., Sanders, D., Smit, C., Wang, D., Nummi, P., Zhu, Y., Wang, L., Zhu, H. & Hassan, N., 10-Oct-2018, In : Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences. 285, 1888, 9 p., 20181665.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

  • Xiaofei Li
  • Zhiwei Zhong
  • Dirk Sanders
  • Christian Smit
  • Deli Wang
  • Petri Nummi
  • Yu Zhu
  • Ling Wang
  • Hui Zhu
  • Nazim Hassan

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 taurus) 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 with 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, probably by decreasing plant litter accumulation by herbivory and trampling, allowing more light to reach the soil surface leading to microclimatic conditions that favour ants. Ants facilitated cattle probably by increasing soil nutrients via bioturbation, increasing food (plant) biomass and quality (nitrogen 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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20181665
Number of pages9
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences
Issue number1888
Publication statusPublished - 10-Oct-2018


  • facultative mutualism, ecosystem engineering, facilitation, resources availability, indirect effects, soil nutrients, POSITIVE INTERACTIONS, ECOSYSTEM ENGINEERS, PLANT-COMMUNITIES, VEGETATION MOSAICS, SPECIES RICHNESS, COMPETITION, SCALE, DIVERSITY, CATTLE, PERFORMANCE

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