Diversity, Phylogeny and Trophic Ecology of Arboreal and Terrestrial Ant Communities along a Lowland Rainforest Transformation Gradient

Ants are dominant in tropical lowland forest in terms of overall abundance and biomass. Through their collective ecological pressure, ants significantly influence the diversity, structure and dynamics of other arthropod communities, so much so that it is assumed that nearly all current arthropod life on earth must have passed through an ant-shaped selective filter. The ecosystem functions that ants are carrying out in natural ecosystems such as tropical forest are likely to be disproportionally affected by the conversion of rainforest into agricultural landscapes. Specifically, ants in agricultural system may have an entirely different impact on ecosystem functions such as pest control or pollination, as certain key-species or even entire trophic guilds may not be present in the altered transformation systems.

I will thus study the cascading impact of rainforest conversion into agricultural land-use on ecosystem services on the landscape level by focusing on arboreal and terrestrial ant assemblages. My research will rely on canopy and litter ant samples that I have collected from 128 plots of the EFForTS Landscape Assessment.

My research project will be carried out in three thematic complexes. Specifically, we aim at:

  1. Establish functional patterns of canopy and litter ant communities at landscape level and infer ecological interactions (networks, co-occurrence patterns, correlation patterns)
  2. Using DNA barcoding and subsequent phylogenetic analyses to understand the degree to which rainforest transformation entails phylogenetic environmental filtering
  3. Studying food web structure and trophic positions of the entire ant community by using stable isotope ratios of nitrogen (15N/14N, δ15N) and carbon (13C/12C, δ13C)