Patterns of distribution, human-mediated dispersal and intraspecific variations in urbanized landscapes : how ants respond to urbanization

Abstract : Urbanization is a complex process involving simultaneous changes in several environmental conditions, including ground and air temperature (urban heat island effect), habitat fragmentation and chemical pollution. These changes are often associated with biodiversity loss and changes in ecosystems functioning. However, more than a sink for biodiversity, urban areas constitute true ecosystems where many native and alien species survive and even grow stable populations. The “urban ecosystem” is now considered as an important element in the functioning of densely populated environments, in human health and well-being, as well as in biodiversity conservation. More fundamentally, urbanization constitutes “real life experiment” offering ecologists an opportunity to better understand ecological and evolutionary processes over fine spatial and temporal scale. This thesis investigates ecological and evolutionary consequences urbanization at different biological organization levels using ants (Formicidae) as biological models. First, at the biological community level, we showed that native and alien ant responses to urbanization were species-specific as each species was affected by its own set of environmental changes associated with urbanization (e.g., fragmentation, ground temperature) and climate. Second, we explored the little studied process of human-mediated dispersal by (i) proposing a novel theoretical framework focusing on human activities rather than directly on species and (ii) developing an innovative simulation model of dispersal by transport in terrestrial landscapes, MoRIS (Model of Routes of Invasive Spread). Third, we investigated how urbanization affected novel biotic interactions between an alien ant species (Lasius neglectus), an alien ectoparasite fungus (Laboulbenia formicarum) and native ant species. We showed that urbanization impacted the size of L. neglectus colonies, which were smaller in urban area, as well as L. formicarum prevalence on L. neglectus, which was higher in urban areas. Finally, we investigated intraspecific variations between urban and rural conspecifics of an urban tolerant species: Lasius niger. We found that urban young queens were smaller and lighter, less stressed by high temperature and performed multiple mating more often than rural young queens. In common garden, colony founding success were globally similar but urban incipient colonies produced significantly less pupae (and consequently workers). We also found that workers produced in common garden experiments were more variable in size (higher head width variance in both inter- and intra-colony) in urban colonies than in rural colonies. No evidence for genetic differentiation between urban and rural populations was found, suggesting that gene flow was not disrupted between urban and rural populations. All our results converge to a renewed vision of ecological and potential evolutionary dynamics occurring in urban environments. Further investigation will be necessary to assess how ecological processes influence evolutionary trajectories in urban ecosystems, using both ecological (e.g. ant densities and abundances along the urban gradient) and genomic approaches (e.g. using “genotyping by sequencing” methods to identify genes responsible for adaptation to urbanization)
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Jérôme Gippet. Patterns of distribution, human-mediated dispersal and intraspecific variations in urbanized landscapes : how ants respond to urbanization. Ecology, environment. Université de Lyon, 2016. English. ⟨NNT : 2016LYSE1286⟩. ⟨tel-01474876⟩

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