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Trait-mediated competition drives an ant invasion and alters functional diversity

Cite this dataset

Wong, Mark K L (2022). Trait-mediated competition drives an ant invasion and alters functional diversity [Dataset]. Dryad.


The assumption that differences in species’ traits reflect their different niches has long influenced how ecologists infer processes from assemblage patterns. For instance, many assess the importance of environmental filtering versus classical limiting-similarity competition in driving biological invasions by examining whether invaders’ traits are similar or dissimilar to those of residents, respectively. However, mounting evidence suggests that hierarchical differences between species’ trait values can distinguish their competitive abilities (e.g., for the same resource) instead of their niches. Whether such trait-mediated hierarchical competition explains invasions and structures assemblages is less explored. We integrate morphological, dietary, physiological and behavioural trait analyses to test whether environmental filtering, limiting-similarity competition, or hierarchical competition explain invasions by fire ants on ant assemblages. We detect both competition mechanisms; invasion success is not only explained by limiting similarity in body size and thermal tolerance (presumably allowing the invader to exploit different niches from residents), but also by the invader’s superior position in trait hierarchies reflecting competition for common trophic resources. We find that the two mechanisms generate complex assemblage-level functional diversity patterns (overdispersion in some traits, clustering in others) suggesting their effects are likely missed by analyses restricted to a few traits and composite trait diversity measures.