For most animal and plant species, life traits strongly affect their species-specific role, function or position within ecological communities. Previous studies on ant communities have mostly focused on the role of dominant species and the outcome of interspecific interactions. However, life traits of ant species have seldom been considered within a community framework. This study (1) analyses life traits related to ecological and behavioural characteristics of dominant and subordinate ant species from 13 sites distributed throughout the Iberian Peninsula, (2) determines how similar the ant species are within each of the two levels of the dominance hierarchy, and (3) establishes the distribution patterns of these different groups of species along environmental gradients. Our results showed that the differences between dominants and subordinates fall into two main categories: resource exploitation and thermal tolerance. Dominant species have more populated colonies and defend food resources more fiercely than subordinates, but they display low tolerance to high temperatures. We have identified different assemblages of species included within each of these two levels in the dominance hierarchy. The distribution of these assemblages varied along the environmental gradient, shifting from dominant Dolichoderinae and cryptic species in moist areas, to dominant Myrmicinae and hot climate specialists mainly in open and hot sites. We have been able to identify a set of life traits of the most common Iberian ant species that has enabled us to characterise groups of dominant and subordinate species. Although certain common features within the groups of both dominants and subordinates always emerge, other different features allow for differentiating subgroups within each of these groups. These different traits allow the different subgroups coping with particular conditions across environmental gradients. © 2012 Springer-Verlag.
|Publication status||Published - 4 Apr 2012|
- Dominance hierarchy
- Species similarity
- Vegetation cover