Patterns of diversity and composition of Mediterranean ground ant communities tracking spatial and temporal variability in the thermal environment
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The present study analyzed ant community structure and the factors affecting it in the Spanish Mediterranean area. The aim of this study was to test whether temperature controls the composition and diversity of the ground ant fauna and the spatial and temporal distribution of dominance groups along adjacent communities. The main descriptors of community structure (except perharps species richness) were found to vary along the gradient of vegetation cover: increased vegetation cover resulted in an increase in the relative abundance of the most common species, which led to a significant decrease in species evenness, together with a reduction in total ant density on the ground. In open habitats, dominant and subordinate species were abundant during different periods of the day, and this led to an increase in species evenness. In areas with high vegetation cover, dominants benefited from the lower temperatures by lengthening their periods of activity. This resulted in a decrease in the abundance of subordinate species, and in lower evenness. Seasonal patterns in community structure tracked temperature fluctuations and varied between habitat types. Evenness was similar in the two habitat types in spring, but increased in grasslands and decreased in shrublands/forests in summer. Species richness did not vary between seasons or habitat types. The relative abundance of dominance groups in the two types of habitats showed a different pattern between seasons. In grasslands, subordinates increased and dominants decreased their relative abundance from spring to summer, while in shrublands/forests, the opposite pattern was found. The overall conclusion from this study is that ground ant communities in open areas are primarily regulated by temperature variations, while in shrublands and forests, dominant species are more abundant, and competitive interactions appear to be the major structuring force.
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