Local and landscape environmental heterogeneity drive ant community structure in temperate seminatural upland grasslands

Antonio J. Pérez-Sánchez, Anett Schibalski, Boris Schröder, Sebastian Klimek, Jens Dauber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations

Abstract

Environmental heterogeneity is an important driver of ecological communities. Here, we assessed the effects of local and landscape spatial environmental heterogeneity on ant community structure in temperate seminatural upland grasslands of Central Germany. We surveyed 33 grassland sites representing a gradient in elevation and landscape composition. Local environmental heterogeneity was measured in terms of variability of temperature and moisture within and between grasslands sites. Grassland management type (pasture vs. meadows) was additionally included as a local environmental heterogeneity measure. The complexity of habitat types in the surroundings of grassland sites was used as a measure of landscape environmental heterogeneity. As descriptors of ant community structure, we considered species composition in terms of nest density, community evenness, and functional response traits. We found that extensively grazed pastures and within-site heterogeneity in soil moisture at local scale, and a high diversity of land cover types at the landscape scale affected ant species composition by promoting higher nest densities of some species. Ant community evenness was high in wetter grasslands with low within-site variability in soil moisture and surrounded by a less diverse landscape. Fourth-corner models revealed that ant community structure response to environmental heterogeneity was mediated mainly by worker size, colony size, and life history traits related with colony reproduction and foundation. We discuss how within-site local variability in soil moisture and low-intensity grazing promote ant species densities and highlight the role of habitat temperature and humidity affecting community evenness. We hypothesize that a higher diversity of land cover types in a forest-dominated landscape buffers less favorable environmental conditions for ant species establishment and dispersal between grasslands. We conclude that spatial environmental heterogeneity at local and landscape scale plays an important role as deterministic force in filtering ant species and, along with neutral processes (e.g., stochastic colonization), in shaping ant community structure in temperate seminatural upland grasslands.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere9889
JournalEcology and Evolution
Volume13
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Mar 2023
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Formicidae
  • environmental filtering
  • evenness
  • fourth-corner models
  • meadows
  • pastures
  • response traits
  • species composition

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