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Temperature, but not productivity or geometry, predicts elevational diversity gradients in ants across spatial grains


*Correspondence: Nathan J. Sanders, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 569 Dabney Hall, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996, USA.E-mail:


Aim  This research aims to understand the factors that shape elevational diversity gradients and how those factors vary with spatial grain. Specifically, we test the predictions of the species–productivity hypothesis, species–temperature hypothesis, the metabolic theory of ecology and the mid-domain effects null model. We also examine how the effects of productivity and temperature on richness depend on spatial grain.

Location  Deciduous forests along an elevational gradient in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, USA.

Methods  We sampled 22 leaf litter ant assemblages at three spatial grains, from 1-m2 quadrats to 50 × 50 m plots using Winkler samplers.

Results  Across spatial grains, warmer sites had more species than did cooler sites, and primary productivity did not predict ant species richness. We found some support for the predictions of the metabolic theory of ecology, but no support for the mid-domain effects null model. Thus, our data are best explained by some version of a species–temperature hypothesis.

Main conclusions  Our results suggest that temperature indirectly affects ant species diversity across spatial grains, perhaps by limiting access to resources. Warmer sites support more species because they support more individuals, thereby reducing the probability of local extinction. Many of our results from this elevational gradient agree with studies at more global scales, suggesting that some mechanisms shaping ant diversity gradients are common across scales.