• ant gardens;
  • biodiversity;
  • bromeliads;
  • community functions;
  • forest;
  • French Guiana;
  • invertebrates;
  • phytotelmata;
  • two-species mutualism


  • 1
     Our understanding of the contribution of interspecific interactions to functional diversity in nature lags behind our knowledge of spatial and temporal patterns. Although two-species mutualisms are found in all types of ecosystems, the study of their ecological influences on other community members has mostly been limited to third species, while their influence on entire communities remains largely unexplored.
  • 2
     We hypothesized that mutualistic interactions between two respective ant species and an epiphyte mediate the biological traits composition of entire invertebrate communities that use the same host plant, thereby affecting food webs and functional diversity at the community level.
  • 3
    Aechmea mertensii (Bromeliaceae) is both a phytotelm (‘plant-held water’) and an ant-garden epiphyte. We sampled 111 bromeliads (111 aquatic invertebrate communities) associated with either the ant Pachycondyla goeldii or Camponotus femoratus. The relationships between ants, bromeliads and invertebrate abundance data were examined using a redundancy analysis. Biological traits information for invertebrates was structured using a fuzzy-coding technique, and a co-inertia analysis between traits and abundance data was used to interpret functional differences in bromeliad ecosystems.
  • 4
     The vegetative traits of A. mertensii depended on seed dispersion by C. femoratus and P. goeldii along a gradient of local conditions. The ant partner selected sets of invertebrates with traits that were best adapted to the bromeliads’ morphology, and so the composition of the biological traits of invertebrate phytotelm communities depends on the identity of the ant partner. Biological traits suggest a bottom-up control of community structure in C. femoratus-associated phytotelmata and a greater structuring role for predatory invertebrates in P. goeldii-associated plants.
  • 5
     This study presents new information showing that two-species mutualisms affect the functional diversity of a much wider range of organisms. Most biological systems form complex networks where nodes (e.g. species) are more or less closely linked to each other, either directly or indirectly, through intermediate nodes. Our observations provide community-level information about biological interactions and functional diversity, and perspectives for further observations intended to examine whether large-scale changes in interacting species/community structure over broad geographical and anthropogenic gradients affect ecosystem functions.