Litter Biomass and Nutrient Determinants of Ant Density, Nest Size, and Growth in a Costa Rican Tropical Wet Forest


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The nutritional demands of animals vary by taxon. Across landscapes, communities of animals experience variability in the stoichiometry of carbon and nutrients within their resource base. Thus, we expect stoichiometry to contribute to the spatial variance in the demographic parameters of animal communities. Here, we measure how the composition of a litter-nesting tropical rainforest ant community is influenced by spatial variation in environmental stoichiometry relative to litter biomass, a known predictor of ant density. We found the density of ants and their nests were strongly related to litter biomass and carbon: phosphorus stoichiometry. The spatial variation in soil nutrients, which determines leaf litter stoichiometry, was an excellent predictor of nest size in the two most common genera of ants. We found a negative relationship between species' growth rate and local soil stocks of phosphorus. Overall, the density of litter-dwelling ants varied greatly across this tropical forest landscape and environmental stoichiometry can account for limits on ant density independent of the biomass of the leaf litter resource base.