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Vertical niche and elevation range size in tropical ants: implications for climate resilience

Cite this dataset

Leahy, Lily et al. (2021). Vertical niche and elevation range size in tropical ants: implications for climate resilience [Dataset]. Dryad.


Aim: We propose that forest trees create a vertical dimension for ecological niche variation that generates different regimes of climatic exposure, which in turn drives species elevation distributions. We test this hypothesis by statistically modelling the vertical and elevation distributions and microclimate exposure of rainforest ants. 

Location: Wet Tropics Bioregion, Australia

Methods: We conducted 60 ground-to-canopy surveys to determine the vertical (tree) and elevation distributions, and microclimate exposure of ants (101 species) at 15 sites along four mountain ranges. We statistically modelled elevation range size as a function of ant species’ vertical niche breadth and exposure to temperature variance for 55 species found at two or more trees. 

Results: We found a positive association between vertical niche and elevation range of ant species: for every 3 m increase in vertical niche breadth our models predict a ~150% increase in mean elevation range size. Temperature variance increased with vertical height along the arboreal gradient and ant species exposure to temperature variance explained some of the variation in elevation range size.

Main Conclusions: We demonstrate that arboreal ants have broader elevation ranges than ground-dwelling ants and are likely to have increased resilience to climatic variance. The capacity of species to expand their niche by climbing trees could influence their ability to persist over broader elevation ranges. We propose that wherever vertical layering exists - from oceans to forest ecosystems - vertical niche breadth is a potential mechanism driving macrogeographic distribution patterns and resilience to climate change.



Main survey collections data in a site by species matrix showing all data for all sites surveyed.  Tuna baited vials were placed every three metres from ground to canopy in trees at elevation sites at four subregion mountain ranges of the Australian Wet Tropics Bioregion. Note data file includes empty vials that lacked ants.


This file contains Atherton Uplands temperature data from ibuttons deployed at one tree per elevation (200, 400, 600, 800, 1000) at every three metres in height in Dec-Jan 2017- 2018 set to record every half hour.

Usage notes

See file Metadata for details of column names and data values.


Explorers Club

Wet Tropics Management Authority

Skyrail Rainforest Foundation

Equity Trustees

Wet Tropics Management Authority