Original Article

Diversity and distribution of Solenopsis (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) thief ants belowground

Ohyama, L., King, J.R. & Jenkins, D.G.

Abstract: Subterranean ant communities are vastly understudied relative to aboveground ant communities. The thief ants of the genus Solenopsis are a globally abundant and widespread group that is a conspicuous and important part of the below ground ant community. Thief ant ecology, including their distribution and diversity at local scales, has also rarely been documented. In this study, we sampled the subterranean ant community of central Florida, a region with conspicuously high subterranean thief ant abundance. We used a stratified-random sampling protocol and collected soil environmental variables at each sampling plot to model subterranean ant diversity in relation to abiotic conditions in the soil envi ronment. Furthermore, we utilized non-parametric ordination methods and permutation-based analyses of variance to visualize and quantify associations of species based on habitats and soil strata. Our study yielded 15 species from six genera of which five were thief ant species. These five Solenopsis species represented 64% of all ant individuals found. We also identified distinct differences in species composition between two habitat types (pine flatwoods and high pine sandhills) and significant associations of soil abiotic conditions with the diversity of the subterranean community. This study finds that thief ants dominate belowground and respond predictably to soil habitat conditions. Biotic effects among ant species may be important given their purported lestobiotic behaviors.

Preview not available.