Review Article

Dominance hierarchies are a dominant paradigm in ant ecology (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), but should they be? And what is a dominance hierarchy anyways?

Stuble, K.L., Jurić, I., Cerdá, X. & Sanders, N.J.


Abstract: There is a long tradition of community ecologists using interspecific dominance hierarchies as a way to explain species coexistence and community structure. However, there is considerable variation in the methods used to construct these hierarchies, how they are quantified, and how they are interpreted. In the study of ant communities, hierarchies are typically based on the outcome of aggressive encounters between species or on bait monopolization. These parameters are converted to rankings using a variety of methods ranging from calculating the proportion of fights won or baits monopolized to minimizing hierarchical reversals. However, we rarely stop to explore how dominance hierarchies relate to the spatial and temporal structure of ant communities, nor do we ask how different ranking methods quantitatively relate to one another. Here, through a review of the literature and new analyses of both published and unpublished data, we highlight some limitations of the use of dominance hierarchies, both in how they are constructed and how they are interpreted. We show that the most commonly used ranking methods can generate variation among hierarchies given the same data and that the results depend on sample size. Moreover, these ranks are not related to resource acquisition, suggesting limited ecological implications for dominance hierarchies. These limitations in the construction, analysis, and interpretation of dominance hierarchies lead us to suggest it may be time for ant ecologists to move on from dominance hierarchies.

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