Ant-mediated ecosystem processes are driven by trophic community structure but mainly by the environment
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- Salas-Lopez, A., Mickal, H., Menzel, F. et al. Oecologia (2017) 183: 249. doi:10.1007/s00442-016-3741-z
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The diversity and functional identity of organisms are known to be relevant to the maintenance of ecosystem processes but can be variable in different environments. Particularly, it is uncertain whether ecosystem processes are driven by complementary effects or by dominant groups of species. We investigated how community structure (i.e., the diversity and relative abundance of biological entities) explains the community-level contribution of Neotropical ant communities to different ecosystem processes in different environments. Ants were attracted with food resources representing six ant-mediated ecosystem processes in four environments: ground and vegetation strata in cropland and forest habitats. The exploitation frequencies of the baits were used to calculate the taxonomic and trophic structures of ant communities and their contribution to ecosystem processes considered individually or in combination (i.e., multifunctionality). We then investigated whether community structure variables could predict ecosystem processes and whether such relationships were affected by the environment. We found that forests presented a greater biodiversity and trophic complementarity and lower dominance than croplands, but this did not affect ecosystem processes. In contrast, trophic complementarity was greater on the ground than on vegetation and was followed by greater resource exploitation levels. Although ant participation in ecosystem processes can be predicted by means of trophic-based indices, we found that variations in community structure and performance in ecosystem processes were best explained by environment. We conclude that determining the extent to which the dominance and complementarity of communities affect ecosystem processes in different environments requires a better understanding of resource availability to different species.