Do ant traits respond to abiotic factors along broad environmental gradients?
Javier E. Ibarra-Isassi, Javier Eduardo Ibarra-Isassi , Ira Tanya Handa , Jean-Philippe Lessard
Department of Biology, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Department of Biology, Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada ; Département des Sciences Biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, Québec, Canada ; Department of Biology, Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada
Understanding species distributions and diversity gradients requires knowledge of the factors mediating the occurrence of species under certain environmental conditions. Traits are being used more frequently to develop mechanistic models that can predict how ecological communities respond to abiotic and biotic conditions, specially in plant ecology. However, less studies focus in the response of animal’s traits to the environment. Due to the ubiquity and ecological importance of ants, they represent an ideal model to understand the relationship between trait diversity and the environment. In this study, we analyse how the species traits present in ant communities vary along broad gradients in climate, productivity and vegetation type in Quebec. To this end, we sampled 20 different ant communities following a latitudinal gradient, spanning from 45°N to 54°N, for which 11 functional traits are described. We used traits that characterize different dimensions of the ant ecological niche regarding morphology, life-history and ecological preference, at the individual (separating in worker and reproductive castes) and colony levels. We integrated traits into multivariate indices and models of community with the help of multivariate statistics such as fourth-corner analysis. Our results show that climate variables play an important role in shaping the occurrence of species traits in ant communities. Our results indicate that there is a relationship between the abiotic environment and the distribution of functional traits in ant communities. This finding suggests that traits modulate the responses of ant species to the environment. Finally, and since these traits can act as a link between environment and species distributions, they have the potential to be used as tools to accurately predict community changes (at different scales) under future climate change scenarios at a global scale.