Habitats shape taxonomic and functional composition of Neotropical ant assemblages

Abstract

Determining assembly rules of co-occurring species persists as a fundamental goal in community ecology. At local scales, the relative importance of environmental filtering vs. competitive exclusion remains a subject of debate. In this study, we assessed the relative importance of habitat filtering and competition in structuring understory ant communities in tropical forests of French Guiana. Leaf-litter ants were collected using pitfall and Winkler traps across swamp, slope and plateau forests near Saül, French Guiana. We used a combination of univariate and multivariate analyses to evaluate trait response of ants to habitat characteristics. Null model analyses were used to investigate the effects of habitat filtering and competitive interactions on community assembly at the scale of assemblages and sampling points, respectively. Swamp forests presented a much lower taxonomic and functional richness compared to slope and plateau forests. Furthermore, marked differences in taxonomic and functional composition were observed between swamp forests and slope or plateau forests. We found weak evidence for competitive exclusion based on null models. Nevertheless, the contrasting trait composition observed between habitats revealed differences in the ecological attributes of the species in the different forest habitats. Our analyses suggest that competitive interactions may not play an important role in structuring leaf-litter ant assemblages locally. Rather, habitats are responsible for driving both taxonomic and functional composition of ant communities.

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Acknowledgements

Financial support for this study was provided by an Investissement d’Avenir grant of the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (CEBA: ANR-10-LABX-25-01) through a PhD fellowship to MF and the funding of the DIADEMA project (Dissecting Amazonian Diversity by Enhancing a Multiple taxonomic-groups approach), by the Programme Convergence 2007–2013, Région Guyane from the European community (BREGA, 757/2014/SGAR/DE/BSF) and by the PO-FEDER 2014-2020 Région Guyane (BING, GY0007194). JHCD acknowledges his research grant from CNPq.

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JO and CB designed protocol and methodology. JO and JD carried out the field sampling. MF and JD sorted specimen to morphospecies and JHCD supervised species identifications. JM performed the molecular analyses. BB and AW performed the morphological measurements. MF analysed the data and wrote the manuscript, with comments from all authors.

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Correspondence to Mélanie Fichaux.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Andreas Prinzing.

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Fichaux, M., Béchade, B., Donald, J. et al. Habitats shape taxonomic and functional composition of Neotropical ant assemblages. Oecologia 189, 501–513 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-019-04341-z

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Keywords

  • Formicidae
  • Traits
  • Functional diversity
  • Habitat filtering
  • Rainforest