Does morphology predict trophic position and habitat use of ant species and assemblages? Academic Article uri icon


  • A functional traits-based theory of organismal communities is critical for understanding the principles underlying community assembly, and predicting responses to environmental change. This is particularly true for terrestrial arthropods, of which only 20% are described. Using epigaeic ant assemblages, we asked: (1) can we use morphological variation among species to predict trophic position or preferred microhabitat; (2) does the strength of morphological associations suggest recent trait divergence; (3) do environmental variables at site scale predict trait sets for whole assemblages? We pitfall-trapped ants from a revegetation chronosequence and measured their morphology, trophic position [using C:N stoichiometry and stable isotope ratios (δ)] and characteristics of microhabitat and macrohabitat. We found strong associations between high trophic position (low C:N and high δ(15)N) in body tissue and morphological traits: predators were larger, had more laterally positioned eyes, more physical protection and tended to be monomorphic. In addition, morphological traits were associated with certain microhabitat features, e.g. smaller heads were associated with the bare ground microhabitat. Trait-microhabitat relationships were more pronounced when phylogenetic adjustments were used, indicating a strong influence of recent trait divergences. At the assemblage level, our fourth corner analysis revealed associations between the prevalence of traits and macrohabitat, although these associations were not the same as those based on microhabitat associations. This study shows direct links between species-level traits and both diet and habitat preference. Trait-based prediction of ecological roles and community structure is thus achievable when integrating stoichiometry, morphology and phylogeny, but scale is an important consideration in such predictions.


  • Gibb, H
  • Stoklosa, J
  • Warton, DI
  • Brown, AM
  • Andrew, NR
  • Cunningham, SA

publication date

  • 2015