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, 190 (2), 433-443

Different Trophic Groups of Arboreal Ants Show Differential Responses to Resource Supplementation in a Neotropical Savanna

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Different Trophic Groups of Arboreal Ants Show Differential Responses to Resource Supplementation in a Neotropical Savanna

Laila F Ribeiro et al. Oecologia.

Abstract

Resource-ratio theory predicts that consumers should achieve optimal ratios of complementary nutrients. Accordingly, different trophic groups are expected to vary in their N-limitation depending on the extent to which they feed primarily on carbohydrate (CHO) or protein. Among arboreal ants, N-limitation ranges from high (for trophobiont tenders), intermediate (leaf foragers) and low (predators). We report results from a manipulative field experiment in a Brazilian savanna that tests the differential attractiveness of nitrogen and CHO to arboreal ants, as well as experimentally examines changes in broader ant foraging patterns in response to protein and CHO supplementation. Every tree within 32 20 × 20 m plots were supplemented with either protein, CHO; protein + CHO or a water control (n = 8 in each case) for a 7-day period in each of the wet and dry seasons. As predicted, different trophic groups responded differentially to supplementation treatment according to the extent of their N-limitation. The richness and abundance of the most N-limited group (trophobiont tenders) was highest at protein supplements, whereas less N-limited trophic groups showed highest species richness (leaf foragers) or abundance (predators) at CHO supplements. Protein supplementation markedly increased the general foraging abundance of trophobiont tenders, but decreased the abundance of leaf foragers. We attribute the latter to increased competition from behaviorally dominant trophobiont tenders. Our study provides experimental evidence that nutrient availability is a major factor influencing arboreal ant communities, both directly through the provision of different resources, and indirectly through increased competitive pressure.

Keywords: Cerrado; Community structure; Ecological stoichiometry; Formicidae; Nutritional ecology.

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