Accessing the subterranean ant fauna (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) in native and modified subtropical landscapes in the Neotropics

Abstract: Several studies have characterized and delimited subterranean ant assemblages. Soil extraction, one of the methods employed to access this fauna, employs the removal of monoliths. One of the most widely used methods for the extraction of soil sampling is called TSBF (developed by the Tropical Soil Biology and Fertility Programme). This method provides relevant data about the species associated with the soil. In the present study we characterized assemblages of subterranean ants using the TSBF method in different subtropical areas of the Neotropics. We considered two sampling designs in different localities. The first design resulted in 315 TSBF samples obtained from layers at distinct depths. The second design resulted in 270 TSBF samples and 270 epigaeic pitfall trap samples. This material was used to delimit the species that occur exclusively in the subterranean stratum (TSBF) and that are not found on the soil surface. A total of 281 species were recorded. Of these, 57 can be considered subterranean, based on their occurrence in subterranean strata. We also verified that the highest occurrence of ants was in the first 10 cm of soil depth. Due to the importance of using methods that efficiently extract the subterranean ant fauna in studies, we suggest the TSBF method should be used to sample ants or to associate this method with epigaeic pitfall traps to delimit strictly subterranean assemblages in specific community stratification studies.