The Role of Wood Ants (Formica rufa group) in Carbon and Nutrient Dynamics of a Boreal Norway Spruce Forest Ecosystem

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Wood ants (Formica rufa group) are regarded as keystone species in boreal and mountain forests of Europe and Asia by their effect on ecosystem carbon (C) and nutrient pools and fluxes. To quantify the impact of their activity on boreal forest ecosystems, C, nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), potassium (K) and calcium (Ca) pools and fluxes in wood ant nests (WAN), and soil were assessed along a 5-, 30-, 60-, and 100-year-old Norway spruce (Picea abies L. Karsten) dominated successional gradient in eastern Finland. Amounts of C and nutrients in WAN increased with stand age, but contained less than 1% of total C and nutrient pools in these stands. The CO2-efflux from nests was also insignificant, as compared to CO2-efflux from the forest floor. Annually, the amount of C brought by wood ants into their nests as honeydew, prey and nest-building materials ranged from 2. 7 to 49. 3 kg ha-1 C, but this is only 0. 1-0. 7% of the combined net primary production of trees and understorey in boreal forests. The difference between wood ant nest C inputs and outputs was very small in the younger-aged stands, and increased in the older stands. Carbon accumulation rates in nests over a 100 year period are estimated to be less than 10 kg ha-1 a-1. In contrast to C, annual inputs of N, P, and K are larger compared to wood ant nest nutrient pool size, ranging from 3 to 6% of the annual tree stand and understorey uptake. This indicates a more rapid turnover and transport of N, P, and K out of WAN, and suggests that wood ants increase the cycling rate of these nutrients in boreal forests. © 2012 Springer Science+Business Media New York.

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