Ants are the major agents of food resource removal from tropical rainforest floors

Griffiths, HG, Ashton, L, Walker, A, Hasan, F, Evans, T, Eggleton, P and Parr, CL ORCID: 0000-0003-1627-763X
(2018) Ants are the major agents of food resource removal from tropical rainforest floors. Journal of Animal Ecology, 87 (1). 293 - 300.

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1. Ants are diverse and abundant, especially in tropical ecosystems. They are often cited as the agents of key ecological processes, but their precise contributions compared with other organisms have rarely been quantified. Through the removal of food resources from the forest floor and subsequent transport to nests, ants play an important role in the redistribution of nutrients in rainforests. This is an essential ecosystem process and a key energetic link between higher trophic levels, decomposers and primary producers. 2. We used the removal of carbohydrate, protein and seed baits as a proxy to quantify the contribution that ants, other invertebrates and vertebrates make to the redistribution of nutrients around the forest floor, and determined to what extent there is functional redundancy across ants, other invertebrate and vertebrate groups. 3. Using a large‐scale, field‐based manipulation experiment, we suppressed ants from c . 1 ha plots in a lowland tropical rainforest in Sabah, Malaysia. Using a combination of treatment and control plots, and cages to exclude vertebrates, we made food resources available to: (i) the whole foraging community, (ii) only invertebrates and (iii) only non‐ant invertebrates. This allowed us to partition bait removal into that taken by vertebrates, non‐ant invertebrates and ants. Additionally, we examined how the non‐ant invertebrate community responded to ant exclusion. 4. When the whole foraging community had access to food resources, we found that ants were responsible for 52% of total bait removal whilst vertebrates and non‐ant invertebrates removed the remaining 48%. Where vertebrates were excluded, ants carried out 61% of invertebrate‐mediated bait removal, with all other invertebrates removing the remaining 39%. Vertebrates were responsible for just 24% of bait removal and invertebrates (including ants) collectively removed the remaining 76%. There was no compensation in bait removal rate when ants and vertebrates were excluded, indicating low functional redundancy between these groups. 5. This study is the first to quantify the contribution of ants to the removal of food resources from rainforest floors and thus nutrient redistribution. We demonstrate that ants are functionally unique in this role because no other organisms compensated to maintain bait removal rate in their absence. As such, we strengthen a growing body of evidence establishing ants as ecosystem engineers, and provide new insights into the role of ants in maintaining key ecosystem processes. In this way, we further our basic understanding of the functioning of tropical rainforest ecosystems.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: ecosystem function, ecosystem process, forager, functional redundancy, invertebrate, nutrient distribution, scavenger, soil
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2017 08:46
Last Modified: 02 Apr 2021 08:12
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