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Diurnal foraging ant–tree co-occurrence networks are similar between canopy and understorey in a Neotropical rain forest

Citation

Antoniazzi, Reuber et al. (2020), Diurnal foraging ant–tree co-occurrence networks are similar between canopy and understorey in a Neotropical rain forest, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.d7wm37pxr

Abstract

Discussion of the vertical stratification of organisms in tropical forests has traditionally focused on species distribution. Most studies have shown that, due to differences in abiotic conditions and resource distribution, species can be distributed along the vertical gradient according to their eco-physiological needs. However, the network structure between distinct vertical strata remains little-explored. To fill this gap in knowledge, we used baits to sample ants in the canopy and understorey trees of a Mexican tropical rainforest to record the ant–tree co-occurrences. We examined the ant–tree co-occurrences in the canopy and understorey using complementary network metrics (i.e., specialization, interaction diversity, modularity, and nestedness). In addition, we evaluated co-occurrence patterns between ant species on trees, using C-score analysis. In general, we found no differences in the network structure, although the interaction diversity was greater in the understorey than in the canopy networks. We also observed that co-occurrence networks of each vertical stratum featured four ant species in the central core of highly co-occurring species, with three species unique to each stratum. Moreover, we found a similar trend towards ant species segregation in the both strata. These findings reveal a similar pattern of ant–ant co-occurrences in both vertical strata, probably due to the presence of arboreal nesting ants in the understorey. Overall, we showed that despite the marked differences in species composition and environmental conditions between understorey and canopy strata, ant–tree co-occurrences in these habitats could be governed by similar mechanisms, related to dominance and resource monopolization by ants.

Methods

This study was carried out at the Estación de Biología Tropical Los Tuxtlas, on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico in the state of Veracruz (18°34’ N, 95°04’ W; 200 – 350 m a.s.l.).  At each sampling site (n= 6) we chose the tallest canopy tree to serve as the central sampling point of each plot. This central canopy tree was the starting point for the delineation of six circular plots with a radius of 30 meters. Once we defined the canopy trees of each plot, we chose a posteriori one understorey woody plant for each canopy tree, i.e., they were paired.