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The role of morphological traits in predicting the functional ecology of arboreal and ground ants in the Cerrado–Amazon transition

  • Community Ecology – Original Research
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There is often a vertical stratification of the vegetation in tropical forests, where each forest stratum has a unique set of environmental conditions, including marked differences in habitat heterogeneity, physical complexity, and microclimate. Additionally, many tropical forests are highly seasonal, and we need to consider the temporal variation in environmental conditions when assessing the functional aspects of their organisms. Here, we tested the hypothesis that vertical stratification and seasonality shape tropical ants’ functional ecology and that there are differences in the functional trait diversity and composition between arboreal and ground-dwelling ant communities. We collected ants in the arboreal and ground strata in the rainy and dry seasons in six different areas, measuring seven morphological traits to characterize their functional ecology and diversity. Irrespective of the season, we found a distinct functional composition between arboreal and ground-dwelling ants and a higher functional richness on the ground. However, ground ants were more functionally redundant than arboreal ants. The differences in functional richness and redundancy between ant inhabiting strata and season could also be observed in the community-weighted mean traits: arboreal and ground ant traits can be distinguished in Weber’s length, mandible length, eye length, and eye position on the head capsule. The differences in these functional traits are mainly related to the ants’ feeding habits and the complexity of their foraging substrates. Overall, by providing the first systematic comparison of continuous traits between arboreal and ground-dwelling ants, our study opens new investigation paths, indicating important axes of functional diversification of tropical ants.

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The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.


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The authors are particularly in debt with the following specialists of different ant groups: Alexandre Ferreira (Pheidole), Emília Albuquerque (Cyphomyrmex and Mycetophylax), Jignasha Rana (Cephalotes), Lívia Prado (Camponotus, Megalomyrmex, Octostruma, and Neoponera), Otávio Silva (Rogeria), Ricardo Vicente and Rodolfo Probst (Camponotus). The authors also thank DBO Engenharia and Horizonte Minerals. We dedicate this work to the memory of Rogério Silvestre, who made outstanding contributions to our understanding of the functional ecology of Brazilian ants, and is dearly missed by all authors. Finally, we also dedicate this work for the loving memory of Maria dos Santos Almeida, who brought much love and joy to so many in such a short time.


The authors were funded by Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES). RPSA was funded by CAPES and by the Biodiversity Research Consortium Brazil-Norway (BRC), and Hydro-Alunorte (#12/2016 Ecological Interaction Project). FVA and JAS were funded by PCI-MCTIC/MPEG (302198/2020-2 and 317900/2021-8, respectively). TJI and FBT were funded by CNPQ grants (309552/2018-4 and 306912/2018-0, respectively).

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RPSA, FBT, FC, and FVA conceived of the idea and designed the research; RPSA and FVA carried out the fieldwork; RPSA identified the specimens; JAS measured the attributes of the specimens; RPSA and FBT analyzed the data with significant input from the remaining authors; FC led the writing of the manuscript with significant help from RPSA, FBT, FVA, RRS; all authors contributed critically to the drafts and gave final approval for publication.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Flávio Camarota.

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The authors have not disclosed any competing interests.

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Ethics approval was not required for this study according to local legislation.

Additional information

Communicated by David Donoso.

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Supplementary file1 (DOCX 1223 KB)

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Almeida, R.P.S., Teresa, F.B., Camarota, F. et al. The role of morphological traits in predicting the functional ecology of arboreal and ground ants in the Cerrado–Amazon transition. Oecologia 201, 199–212 (2023).

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