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Exploring arboreal ant community composition and co-occurrence patterns in plantations of oil palm Elaeis guineensis in Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia

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The oil palm, Elaeis guineensis, is a native of West Africa and is now extensively grown in south-east Asia. In 2005, the crop covered four million ha of Malaysia. We examined the arboreal ant fauna in two oil palm plantations that had been farmed with integrated pest management practices for at least 10 yr. Having cut and examined palm fronds from 595 and 503 palms in Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia respectively, we studied diversity in ant assemblages, analysed composition of ant mosaics by stepwise use of null-models, and explored the influence of exotic vs native species on community structure. Altogether we sampled 52 species of canopy ants, of which 23 species were shared between Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia. Seventeen species in Borneo and 24 species in Peninsular Malaysia accounted for 95% of all species occurrences (SOCs). Fortysix percent of all SOCs belonged to 12 tramp ant species with pan-tropical distributions. Forty percent of all SOCs were exotic ants. Six dominant species were found in Borneo, five in the Peninsula. The three most abundant species, Anoplolepis gracilipes, Oecophylla smaragdina and Technomyrmex albipes were dominant in both sites. Three dominants were invasive species that were found on more palms than the native group. Dominant tramp species coexisted with non-dominants more often and tolerated more species of non-dominant ants than native dominants. Null model analyses indicated that species were arranged in mosaics at both the Peninsular Malaysia and Borneo sites. Dominant species showed much less co-occurrence than expected by chance, pointing towards species segregation (even in presence of introduced, invasive species). Similar results were obtained for all species. Non-dominant ants were either positively associated with their dominants, or co-occurred randomly in the presence of dominant species. In contrast, ant assemblages on palms without dominants showed species segregation.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2008

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