The role of resource dispersion in promoting the co-occurrence of dominant and subordinate ant species


P. J. Lester, School of Biological Sciences, Victoria Univ. of Wellington, PO Box 600, Wellington, New Zealand. E-mail:


Dominant competitors govern resource use in many communities, leading to predictions of local exclusion and lower species diversity where dominant species are abundant. However, subordinate and dominant species frequently co-occur. One mechanism that could facilitate resource sharing and co-occurrence of dominant and subordinate competitors is fine-scale resource dispersion. Here, we distributed 6 g of a food resource into 1, 2, 8, 32 or 64 units in small 0.40 m2 areas centred on nests of the dominant ant Monomorium sydneyense. We tested three hypotheses. First, we hypothesized that the species richness and abundance of foraging ants would increase with increasing resource dispersion. Accordingly, species richness doubled and total ant abundance was two orders of magnitude higher in high resource dispersion treatments. Secondly, we hypothesized that increasing resource dispersion would reduce competitive interactions such as resource turnover events and lower the probability of food resources being occupied. Substantial support for this hypothesis was observed. Finally, we tested the hypothesis that the foraging time of each species would be proportional to the relative abundance of each species solely in high resource dispersion treatments. Expected and observed foraging times were statistically similar for only the dominant ant M. sydneyense. The subdominant Pheidole rugosula increased its foraging time much more than was expected, while two subordinate ants showed no relationship between observed and expected times. Thus, while increasing resource dispersion significantly increased overall species richness, this increase in co-occurrence did not correlate with a significant increase in foraging time for the two subordinate species. Rather, changes in resource dispersion appeared to benefit only the subdominant species. Inter-site variation appeared more important for other subordinate species indetermining co-occurrence and foraging time. Multiple mechanisms facilitate co-occurrence and resource sharing in this community, and probably in most other communities.