Pselaphinae is a species-rich beetle subfamily found globally, with many exhibiting myrmecophily-a symbiotic association with ants. Pselaphine-ant associations vary from facultative to obligate, but direct behavioral observations still remain scarce. Pselaphines are speciose and ecologically abundant within tropical leaf litter invertebrate communities where ants dominate, implying a potentially important ecological role that may be affected by habitat disturbances that impact ants. In this study, we measured and analyzed putative functional traits of leaf litter pselaphines associated with myrmecophily through morphometric analysis. We calculated "myrmecophile functional diversity" of pselaphines at different sites and examined this measure's relationship with ant abundance, in both old growth and logged rainforest sites in Sabah, Borneo. We show that myrmecophile functional diversity of pselaphine beetles increases as ant abundance increases. Old growth rainforest sites support a high abundance of ants, which is associated with a high abundance of probable myrmecophilous pselaphines. These results suggest a potential link between adult morphological characters and the functional role these beetles play in rainforest litter as ecological interaction partners with ants.
Animal interactions play an important role in understanding ecological processes. The nature and intensity of these interactions can shape the impacts of organisms on their environment. Because ants and termites, with their high biomass and range of ecological functions, have considerable effects on their environment, the interaction between them is important for ecosystem processes. Although the manner in which ants and termites interact is becoming increasingly well studied, there has been no synthesis to date of the available literature. Here we review and synthesise all existing literature on ant-termite interactions. We infer that ant predation on termites is the most important, most widespread, and most studied type of interaction. Predatory ant species can regulate termite populations and subsequently slow down the decomposition of wood, litter and soil organic matter. As a consequence they also affect plant growth and distribution, nutrient cycling and nutrient availability. Although some ant species are specialised termite predators, there is probably a high level of opportunistic predation by generalist ant species, and hence their impact on ecosystem processes that termites are known to provide varies at the species level. The most fruitful future research direction will be to evaluate the impact of ant-termite predation on broader ecosystem processes. To do this it will be necessary to quantify the efficacy both of particular ant species and of ant communities as a whole in regulating termite populations in different biomes. We envisage that this work will require a combination of methods, including DNA barcoding of ant gut contents along with field observations and exclusion experiments. Such a combined approach is necessary for assessing how this interaction influences entire ecosystems.
The diversity of beetle assemblages in different habitat types (primary forest, logged forest, acacia plantation and oil palm plantation) in Sabah, Malaysia was investigated using three different methods based on habitat levels (Winkler sampling, flight-interception-trapping and mist-blowing). The overall diversity was extremely high, with 1711 species recorded from only 8028 individuals and 81 families (115 family and subfamily groups). Different degrees of environmental changes had varying effects on the beetle species richness and abundance, with oil palm plantation assemblage being most severely affected, followed by acacia plantation and then logged forest. A few species became numerically dominant in the oil palm plantation. In terms of beetle species composition, the acacia fauna showed much similarity with the logged forest fauna, and the oil palm fauna was very different from the rest. The effects of environmental variables (number of plant species, sapling and tree densities, amount of leaf litter, ground cover, canopy cover, soil pH and compaction) on the beetle assemblage were also investigated. Leaf litter correlated with species richness, abundance and composition of subterranean beetles. Plant species richness, tree and sapling densities correlated with species richness, abundance and composition of understorey beetles while ground cover correlated only with the species richness and abundance of these beetles. Canopy cover correlated only with arboreal beetles. In trophic structure, predators represented more than 40% of the species and individuals. Environmental changes affected the trophic structure with proportionally more herbivores (abundance) but fewer predators (species richness and abundance) in the oil palm plantation. Biodiversity, conservation and practical aspects of pest management were also highlighted in this study.
Termites and ants contribute more to animal biomass in tropical rain forests than any other single group and perform vital ecosystem functions. Although ants prey on termites, at the community level the linkage between these groups is poorly understood. Thus, assessing the distribution and specificity of ant termitophagy is of considerable interest. We describe an approach for quantifying ant-termite food webs by sequencing termite DNA (cytochrome c oxidase subunit II, COII) from ant guts and apply this to a soil-dwelling ant community from tropical rain forest in Gabon. We extracted DNA from 215 ants from 15 species. Of these, 17.2 % of individuals had termite DNA in their guts, with BLAST analysis confirming the identity of 34.1 % of these termites to family level or better. Although ant species varied in detection of termite DNA, ranging from 63 % (5/7; Camponotus sp. 1) to 0 % (0/7; Ponera sp. 1), there was no evidence (with small sample sizes) for heterogeneity in termite consumption across ant taxa, and no evidence for species-specific ant-termite predation. In all three ant species with identifiable termite DNA in multiple individuals, multiple termite species were represented. Furthermore, the two termite species that were detected on multiple occasions in ant guts were in both cases found in multiple ant species, suggesting that ant-termite food webs are not strongly compartmentalised. However, two ant species were found to consume only Anoplotermes-group termites, indicating possible predatory specialisation at a higher taxonomic level. Using a laboratory feeding test, we were able to detect termite COII sequences in ant guts up to 2 h after feeding, indicating that our method only detects recent feeding events. Our data provide tentative support for the hypothesis that unspecialised termite predation by ants is widespread and highlight the use of molecular approaches for future studies of ant-termite food webs.
Understanding how species assemble into communities is a key goal in ecology. However, assembly rules are rarely tested experimentally, and their ability to shape real communities is poorly known. We surveyed a diverse community of epiphyte-dwelling ants and found that similar-sized species co-occurred less often than expected. Laboratory experiments demonstrated that invasion was discouraged by the presence of similarly sized resident species. The size difference for which invasion was less likely was the same as that for which wild species exhibited reduced co-occurrence. Finally we explored whether our experimentally derived assembly rules could simulate realistic communities. Communities simulated using size-based species assembly exhibited diversities closer to wild communities than those simulated using size-independent assembly, with results being sensitive to the combination of rules employed. Hence, species segregation in the wild can be driven by competitive species assembly, and this process is sufficient to generate observed species abundance distributions for tropical epiphyte-dwelling ants.
The exceptionally high species richness of arthropods in tropical rainforests hinges on the complexity of the forest itself: that is, on features such as the high plant diversity, the layered nature of the canopy and the abundance and the diversity of epiphytes and litter. We here report on one important, but almost completely neglected, piece of this complex jigsaw-the intricate network of rhizomorph-forming fungi that ramify through the vegetation of the lower canopy and intercept falling leaf litter. We show that this litter-trapping network is abundant and intercepts substantial amounts of litter (257.3 kg ha(-1)): this exceeds the amount of material recorded in any other rainforest litter-trapping system. Experimental removal of this fungal network resulted in a dramatic reduction in both the abundance (decreased by 70.2 ± 4.1%) and morphospecies richness (decreased by 57.4 ± 5.1%) of arthropods. Since the lower canopy levels can contain the highest densities of arthropods, the proportion of the rainforest fauna dependent on the fungal networks is likely to be substantial. Fungal litter-trapping systems are therefore a crucial component of habitat complexity, providing a vital resource that contributes significantly to rainforest biodiversity.
A synthesis is presented of sampling work conducted under a UK government-funded Darwin Initiative grant undertaken predominantly within the Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA), Sabah, East Malaysia. The project concerned the assemblage structure, gas physiology and landscape gas fluxes of termites in pristine and two ages of secondary, dipterocarp forest. The DVCA termite fauna is typical of the Sunda region, dominated by Termes-group soil-feeders and Nasutitermitinae. Selective logging appears to have relatively little effect on termite assemblages, although soil-feeding termites may be moderately affected by this level of disturbance. Species composition changes, but to a small extent when considered against the background level of compositional differences within the Sunda region. Physiologically the assemblage is very like others that have been studied, although there are some species that do not fit on the expected body size-metabolic rate curve. As elsewhere, soil-feeders and soil-wood interface-feeders tend to produce more methane. As with the termite assemblage characteristics, gross gas and energy fluxes do not differ significantly between logged and unlogged sites. Although gross methane fluxes are high, all the soils at DVCA were methane sinks, suggesting that methane oxidation by methanotrophic bacteria was a more important process than methane production by gut archaea. This implies that methane production by termites in South-East Asia is not contributing significantly to the observed increase in levels of methane production worldwide. Biomass density, species richness, clade complement and energy flow were much lower at DVCA than at a directly comparable site in southern Cameroon. This is probably due to the different biogeographical histories of the areas.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Termite-mediated decomposition is an important, but often overlooked, component of the carbon cycle. Using a large-scale suppression experiment in Borneo, Griffiths et al. found that termites contribute between 58 and 64% of mass loss from dead wood.
Termites perform key ecological functions in tropical ecosystems, are strongly affected by variation in rainfall, and respond negatively to habitat disturbance. However, it is not known how the projected increase in frequency and severity of droughts in tropical rainforests will alter termite communities and the maintenance of ecosystem processes. Using a large-scale termite suppression experiment, we found that termite activity and abundance increased during drought in a Bornean forest. This increase resulted in accelerated litter decomposition, elevated soil moisture, greater soil nutrient heterogeneity, and higher seedling survival rates during the extreme El Niño drought of 2015-2016. Our work shows how an invertebrate group enhances ecosystem resistance to drought, providing evidence that the dual stressors of climate change and anthropogenic shifts in biotic communities will have various negative consequences for the maintenance of rainforest ecosystems.
The conversion of natural forest to oil palm plantation is a major current threat to the conservation of biodiversity in South East Asia. Most animal taxa decrease in both species richness and abundance on conversion of forest to oil palm, and there is usually a severe loss of forest species. The extent of loss varies significantly across both different taxa and different microhabitats within the oil palm habitat. The principal driver of this loss in diversity is probably the biological and physical simplification of the habitat, but there is little direct evidence for this. The conservation of forest species requires the preservation of large reserves of intact forest, but we must not lose sight of the importance of conserving biodiversity and ecosystem processes within the oil palm habitat itself. We urgently need to carry out research that will establish whether maintaining diversity supports economically and ecologically important processes. There is some evidence that both landscape and local complexity can have positive impacts on biodiversity in the oil palm habitat. By intelligent manipulation of habitat complexity, it could be possible to enhance not only the number of species that can live in oil palm plantations but also their contribution to the healthy functioning of this exceptionally important and widespread landscape.
Invertebrates are dominant species in primary tropical rainforests, where their abundance and diversity contributes to the functioning and resilience of these globally important ecosystems. However, more than one-third of tropical forests have been logged, with dramatic impacts on rainforest biodiversity that may disrupt key ecosystem processes. We find that the contribution of invertebrates to three ecosystem processes operating at three trophic levels (litter decomposition, seed predation and removal, and invertebrate predation) is reduced by up to one-half following logging. These changes are associated with decreased abundance of key functional groups of termites, ants, beetles and earthworms, and an increase in the abundance of small mammals, amphibians and insectivorous birds in logged relative to primary forest. Our results suggest that ecosystem processes themselves have considerable resilience to logging, but the consistent decline of invertebrate functional importance is indicative of a human-induced shift in how these ecological processes operate in tropical rainforests.
The PREDICTS project-Projecting Responses of Ecological Diversity In Changing Terrestrial Systems (www.predicts.org.uk)-has collated from published studies a large, reasonably representative database of comparable samples of biodiversity from multiple sites that differ in the nature or intensity of human impacts relating to land use. We have used this evidence base to develop global and regional statistical models of how local biodiversity responds to these measures. We describe and make freely available this 2016 release of the database, containing more than 3.2 million records sampled at over 26,000 locations and representing over 47,000 species. We outline how the database can help in answering a range of questions in ecology and conservation biology. To our knowledge, this is the largest and most geographically and taxonomically representative database of spatial comparisons of biodiversity that has been collated to date; it will be useful to researchers and international efforts wishing to model and understand the global status of biodiversity.