Moving targets: determinants of nutritional preferences and habitat use in an urban ant community.
Urban environments are often associated with reduced biodiversity, presumably because they are typically more fragmented, warmer, and drier than nearby non-urban environments. However, urban landscapes offer significant complexity that have allowed some taxonomic groups to flourish. Understanding how urban-exploiting animals navigate this spatiotemporal heterogeneity is important given the continued global urban land expansion. Here, we examined the factors influencing resource-use in an urban community of ants, which represent a widespread and important taxon in urban ecosystems. In particular, we sought to integrate ants' nutritional, thermal, and spatial niches to better understand how urban animals successfully access critical resources throughout their active season. Meteorological season (spring, summer, and fall) and/or species (n=9) influenced ants' preferences for nutrition (ratio of ingested protein-to-carbohydrate ratio), as well as the temperature, type (impervious vs. non-impervious), and shade status (shaded vs. non-shaded) of surfaces used during activity. Our data also indicate links among habitat variables, as well as between nutritional preferences and habitat use. Together, our results suggest that species and seasonality influence ecological (combined nutritional, thermal, and spatial) niches in an urban community. We encourage future work in urban ecosystems that continues to integrate more features of the ecological niche, and to examine the outcomes of variation in niches (e.g., non-overlapping niches may explain both the persistence of some native animals and the success of invaders).