Ant mosaics in a tropical rainforest in Australia and elsewhere: A critical review
The concept of 'ant mosaics' has been established to describe the structure of arboreal ant communities in plantations and other relatively simple forest systems. It is essentially built upon the existence of negative and positive associations between ant species plus the concept of dominance hierarchies. Whether this concept can be applied to ant communities in more complex mature tropical rain forests has been questioned by some authors. Here we demonstrate that some previous attempts to prove or disprove the existence of such ant mosaics sampled by knockdown insecticide canopy fogging in near pristine tropical forests may have been thwarted by poor statistical power and too coarse spatial resolution, and the conclusions may be highly dependent on ant species and forest stratum selected for the study. Moreover, the presence or absence of ant mosaics may be driven by the density of suitable resources. We use an intensively studied ant community in the lowland rainforests of North-East Queensland, Australia to outline processes that may lead to ant mosaic patterns, reasoning that competition for highly predictable resources in space and time such as honeydew and nectar is a fundamental process to maintain the mosaic structure. Honeydew and nectar sources, particularly their amino acids, are of crucial importance for nourishment of arboreal ant species. We use canopy fogging data from the same site in Australia and from two mature rainforests in South-East Asia to compare spatial avoidance and co-occurrence patterns implied by ant mosaics. Significant negative and positive associations were found among the three most abundant ant species in each dataset. Several problems with such spatial analyses are discussed, and we suggest that studies of ant mosaics in complex rainforest communities would benefit from a more focused approach on patterns of resource distribution and their differential utilisation by ants.
Environmental Sciences not elsewhere classified