Does Structural Complexity Determine the Morphology of Assemblages? An Experimental Test on Three Continents Academic Article uri icon

abstract

  • Understanding how species will respond to global change depends on our ability to distinguish generalities from idiosyncrasies. For diverse, but poorly known taxa, such as insects, species traits may provide a short-cut to predicting species turnover. We tested whether ant traits respond consistently to habitat complexity across geographically independent ant assemblages, using an experimental approach and baits. We repeated our study in six paired simple and complex habitats on three continents with distinct ant faunas. We also compared traits amongst ants with different foraging strategies. We hypothesised that ants would be larger, broader, have longer legs and more dorsally positioned eyes in simpler habitats. In agreement with predictions, ants had longer femurs and dorsally positioned eyes in simple habitats. This pattern was most pronounced for ants that discovered resources. Body size and pronotum width responded as predicted for experimental treatments, but were inconsistent across continents. Monopolising ants were smaller, with shorter femurs than those that occupied or discovered resources. Consistent responses for several traits suggest that many, but not all, aspects of morphology respond predictably to habitat complexity, and that foraging strategy is linked with morphology. Some traits thus have the potential to be used to predict the direction of species turnover, changes in foraging strategy and, potentially, evolution in response to changes in habitat structure.

publication date

  • May 17, 2013