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Assembly rules of ground-foraging ant assemblages are contingent on disturbance, habitat and spatial scale

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Abstract Aim 

A major endeavour of community ecology is documenting non-random patterns in the composition and body size of coexisting species, and inferring the processes, or assembly rules, that may have given rise to the observed patterns. Such assembly rules include species sorting resulting from interspecific competition, aggregation at patchily distributed resources, and co-evolutionary dynamics. However, for any given taxon, relatively little is known about how these patterns and processes change through time and vary with habitat type, disturbance history, and spatial scale. Here, we tested for non-random patterns of species co-occurrence and body size in assemblages of ground-foraging ants and asked whether those patterns varied with habitat type, disturbance history, and spatial scale. Location 

Burned and unburned forests and fens in the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon and northern California, USA. Methods 

We describe ground-foraging ant assemblages sampled over two years in two discrete habitat types, namely Darlingtonia fens and upland forests. Half of these sites had been subject to a large-scale, discrete disturbance – a major fire – in the year prior to our first sample. We used null model analyses to compare observed species co-occurrence patterns and body-size distributions in these assemblages with randomly generated assemblages unstructured by competition both within (i.e. at a local spatial scale) and among (i.e. at a regional scale) sites. Results 

At local spatial scales, species co-occurrence patterns and body-size ratios did not differ from randomness. At regional scales, co-occurrence patterns were random or aggregated, and there was evidence for constant body-size ratios of forest ants. Although these patterns varied between habitats and years, they did not differ between burned and unburned sites. Main conclusions 

Our results suggest that the operation of assembly rules depends on spatial scale and habitat type, but that it was not affected by disturbance history from fire.

Keywords: Coexistence; Formicidae; Siskiyou Mountains; community structure; disturbance; fire; niche partitioning

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, University of Vermont, Bington, VT 05405, USA 2: Harvard University, Harvard Forest, 324 North Main Street, Petersham, MA 01366, USA 3: Department of Biological Sciences, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA 95521, USA

Publication date: 2007-09-01

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