Arboreal substrates influence foraging in tropical ants
1. Physically complex substrates impart significant costs on cursorial central-place foragers in terms of time spent outside the nest and total distance traveled. Ants foraging in trees navigate varied surfaces to access patchy resources, thus providing an appropriate model system for examining interactions between foraging efficiency and substrates. 2. We expected that the speed of recruitment, body size distribution and species richness of foraging arboreal ants would differ predictably among common substrate types occurring on tropical tree trunks. We measured changes in ant abundance and species composition over time at baits placed on bare tree bark, moss-covered bark, and vine-like vegetation appressed to bark. We also measured average body size and body size frequency on the three substrate types. Ants discovered baits sooner and accumulated at baits relatively faster when using vine substrates as the primary foraging trail. Average body size was smaller on vine substrates than on bark. Experimental removal of vine and moss substrates nullified these differences. Contrary to our predictions, species richness and body size distributions did not differ among the three substrate types, due in part to the frequent presence of a few common ground-nesting species at baits on bare bark. 3. Our results collectively indicate that linear substrates facilitate access of foraging ants to patchy resources. Ant use of vine-like substrates appears to be opportunistic; vine use is not confined to certain species nor constrained by body size.