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Habitats shape taxonomic and functional composition of Neotropical ant assemblages

Fichaux, Mélanie, Béchade, Benoît, Donald, Julian, Weyna, Arthur, Delabie, Jacques Hubert Charles, Murienne, Jérôme, Baraloto, Christopher, Orivel, Jérôme
Oecologia 2019 v.189 no.2 pp. 501-513
Formicidae, competitive exclusion, forest habitats, models, multivariate analysis, swamps, traps, tropical forests, understory, French Guiana
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.