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Litter ant diversity and abundance in relation to biotic and abiotic factors were analyzed at five primary forest sites lying between 300 to 1650 meter above mean sea level in the Wayanad region of the Western Ghats in Kerala, southern India. Ant abundance and species richness peaked at mid-elevations influenced by the presence of favourable physical conditions and abundance of prey resources. Dominance of ants preferring termites and Collembola as prey at sites rich in their specific prey resources indicate the influence of local prey resource availability in determining ant distribution. Dominant species (Tapinoma sp. and Solenopsis sp.) had wider distributions, being present at all elevations. Physical factors (slope of the terrain, rainfall, moisture, humidity, temperature) and prey resource availability (insect larvae, termites, Collembola) influenced ant species abundance at a regional scale, whereas at local scales, site specific variations in the relationship between abundance of ants and prey-predators and physical factors were recorded. The present study highlights the need to consider site-specific abiotic and biotic factors while examining the distribution patterns of litter ants along altitudinal gradients in other regions of the Western Ghats, which is a recognised hot spot of biodiversity with wide regional variation in vegetation types and faunal distribution patterns.
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