1. The characterisation of energy flow through communities is a primary goal of ecology. Furthermore, predator–prey interactions can influence both species abundance and community composition. The ant subfamily Ponerinae includes many predatory species that range from generalist insectivores to highly specialised hunters that target a single prey type. Given their high diversity and ubiquity in tropical ecosystems, measuring intra- and interspecific variation in their trophic ecology is essential for understanding the role of ants as predators of insect communities. 2. The stable isotopic composition of nitrogen of 22 species from the ant subfamily Ponerinae was measured, relative to plants and other predatory and herbivorous insects at two Atlantic Forest sites in Argentina. The study tested the general assumption that ponerine ants are all predatory, and examined intra- and interspecific variation in trophic ecology relative to habitat, body size and cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 sequences (DNA barcoding). 3. Stable isotope analysis revealed that most ponerines occupy high trophic levels (primary and secondary predators), but some species overlapped with known insect herbivores. Species residing at low trophic levels were primarily arboreal and may rely heavily on nectar or other plant-based resources in their diet. In addition, larger species tend to occupy lower trophic positions than smaller species. 4. Although some of the species were divided into two or more genetic clusters by DNA barcoding analysis, these clusters did not correspond to intraspecific variation in trophic position; therefore, colony dietary flexibility most probably explains species that inhabit more than one trophic level.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)444-455
Number of pages12
JournalEcological Entomology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2020


  • Atlantic Forest
  • body size
  • generalist predators
  • trophic position

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Insect Science


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