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Ants mediate the structure of phytotelm communities in an ant-garden bromeliad

Abstract : The main theories explaining the biological diversity of rain forests often confer a limited understanding of the contribution of interspecific interactions to the observed patterns. We show how two-species mutualisms can affect much larger segments of the invertebrate community in tropical rain forests. Aechmea mertensii (Bromeliaceae) is both a phytotelm (plant-held water) and an ant-garden epiphyte. We studied the influence of its associated ant species (Pachycondyla goeldii and Camponotus femoratus) on the physical characteristics of the plants, and, subsequently, on the diversity of the invertebrate communities that inhabit their tanks. As dispersal agents for the bromeliads, P. goeldii and C. femoratus influence the shape and size of the bromeliad by determining the location of the seedling, from exposed to partially shaded areas. By coexisting on a local scale, the two ant species generate a gradient of habitat conditions in terms of available resources (space and food) for aquatic invertebrates, the diversity of the invertebrate communities increasing with greater volumes of water and fine detritus. Two-species mutualisms are widespread in nature, but their influence on the diversity of entire communities remains largely unexplored. Because macroinvertebrates constitute an important part of animal production in all ecosystem types, further investigations should address the functional implications of such indirect effects.
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Régis Céréghino, Céline Leroy, Alain Dejean, Bruno Corbara. Ants mediate the structure of phytotelm communities in an ant-garden bromeliad. Ecology, Ecological Society of America, 2010, vol. 91, pp. 1549-1556. ⟨10.1890/09-1534.1⟩. ⟨hal-00911501⟩



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