Spatial structure of litter-dwelling ant distribution in a subtropical dry forest
Understanding the spatial patterns of species distribution is essential to characterize the structure of communities, to optimize species inventories and to evaluate the impact of biotic and abiotic variables. Here we describe the spatial structure of the distribution of leaf litter ant species, and of biotic factors that could explain it, in a subtropical semi-deciduous forest of the Argentinian Chaco, characterized by a dense understorey of shrubs and terrestrial bromeliads. Environmental variables (leaf litter quantity and ground bromeliad density) were measured and ants were collected in 1 m2 quadrats distributed along two 200 m transects at intervals of 1.25 m. Overall 87 species were collected. Sixteen positive associations and a single negative association were observed between the 11 most frequent species taken pair-wise. Our results suggest that the spatial distribution of leaf litter ants was determined at two different scales. At a small scale (period below 10 m) a periodic spatial structure, likely due to intraspecific competition, produced a succession of peaks of abundance separated by gaps. At a larger scale (period around 50 m), periodically distributed environmental factors induced aggregates of colonies of species responding positively to these factors. A high quantity of leaf litter and, to a lesser extent, a high density of ground bromeliads promoted a high density and a high species richness of ants. Numerically dominant ants being generally positively associated, interspecific competition was apparently weak. All ant species whose abundance was correlated with an environmental factor were not completely spatially structured by it. This suggests that some other factors, such as intraspecific competition, may have counter-effects.
Keywords.Spatial pattern ant distribution geostatistics Chaco
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