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Habitat disturbance selects against both small and large species across varying climates

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Global extinction drivers, including habitat disturbance and climate change, are thought to affect larger species more than smaller species. However, it is unclear if such drivers interact to affect assemblage body size distributions. We asked how these two key global change drivers differentially affect the interspecific size distributions of ants, one of the most abundant and ubiquitous animal groups on earth. We also asked whether there is evidence of synergistic interactions and whether effects are related to species’ trophic roles. We generated a global dataset on ant body size from 333 local ant assemblages collected by the authors across a broad range of climates and in disturbed and undisturbed habitats. We used head length (range: 0.22–4.55 mm) as a surrogate of body size and classified species to trophic groups. We used generalized linear models to test whether body size distributions changed with climate and disturbance, independent of species richness. Our analysis yielded three key results: 1) climate and disturbance showed independent associations with body size; 2) assemblages included more small species in warmer climates and fewer large species in wet climates; and 3) both the largest and smallest species were absent from disturbed ecosystems, with predators most affected in both cases. Our results indicate that temperature, precipitation and disturbance have differing effects on the body size distributions of local communities, with no evidence of synergistic interactions. Further, both large and small predators may be vulnerable to global change, particularly through habitat disturbance.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2018

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