Separating effects of species identity and species richness on predation, pathogen dissemination and resistance to invasive species in tropical ant communities.
Ants are abundant in natural and managed tropical ecosystems and can have an impact on herbivorous arthropods, as well as plant pathogens. Although it has been shown for plants that the diversity of communities can result in improved ecosystem functioning, it remains uncertain how the species richness of ants affects multiple ecosystem services and disservices. In the present study, we used experimentally enhanced natural gradients in ant species richness on 100 cacao trees in a plantation aiming to analyze the effect of ant species identity and species richness on predation pressure and the incidence of cacao pod borer (CPB), as well as the spread of black pod disease (BPD). Ant species richness did not significantly improve predation of experimentally exposed insects, and was not associated with a reduction in the incidence of CPB. However, the incidence of BPD was higher in ant species rich trees, presumably because more ant species were pathogen vectors. The identity of the dominant ant species affected the incidence of CPB and BPD, as well as predation pressure. Although both ant species richness and identity affected ecosystem services and disservices delivered by the ant community, the results of the present study suggest that the identity of dominant ants is the main driver for ecosystem services in these systems.