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Strategies of offspring investment and dispersal in a spatially structured environment: a theoretical study using ants

Abstract : Background: Offspring investment strategies vary markedly between and within taxa, and much of this variation is thought to stem from the trade-off between offspring size and number. While producing larger offspring can increase their competitive ability, this often comes at a cost to their colonization ability. This competition–colonization trade-off (CCTO) is thought to be an important mechanism supporting coexistence of alternative strategies in a wide range of taxa. However, the relative importance of an alternative and possibly synergistic mechanism—spatial structuring of the environment—remains the topic of some debate. In this study, we explore the influence of these mechanisms on metacommunity structure using an agent-based model built around variable life-history traits. Our model combines explicit resource competition and spatial dynamics, allowing us to tease-apart the influence of, and explore the interaction between, the CCTO and the spatial structure of the environment. We test our model using two reproductive strategies which represent extremes of the CCTO and are common in ants. Results: Our simulations show that colonisers outperform competitors in environments subject to higher temporal and spatial heterogeneity and are favoured when agents mature late and invest heavily in reproduction, whereas competitors dominate in low-disturbance, high resource environments and when maintenance costs are low. Varying life-history parameters has a marked influence on coexistence conditions and yields evolutionary stable strategies for both modes of reproduction. Nonetheless, we show that these strategies can coexist over a wide range of life-history and environmental parameter values, and that coexistence can in most cases be explained by a CCTO. By explicitly considering space, we are also able to demonstrate the importance of the interaction between dispersal and landscape structure. Conclusions: The CCTO permits species employing different reproductive strategies to coexist over a wide range of life-history and environmental parameters, and is likely to be an important factor in structuring ant communities. Our consideration of space highlights the importance of dispersal, which can limit the success of low-dispersers through kin competition, and enhance coexistence conditions for different strategies in spatially structured environments.
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Adam L. Cronin, Nicolas Loeuille, Thibaud Monnin. Strategies of offspring investment and dispersal in a spatially structured environment: a theoretical study using ants. BMC Ecology, BioMed Central, 2015, 16 (1), pp.4. ⟨10.1186/s12898-016-0058-z⟩. ⟨hal-01271330⟩



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