Multi-Axis Niche Examination of Ecological Specialization: Responses to Heat, Desiccation and Starvation Stress in Two Species of Pit-Building Antlions Academic Article uri icon


  • Classical ecological studies discussing specialization usually focus on species' performance along one niche axis. This approach may overlook niche differentiation evident in another dimension which could explain species co-occurrence. The present research exemplifies a comprehensive approach to examining local adaptation. Specifically, we examined multiple niche axes by subjecting a model organism to various experimental conditions to monitor responses to extreme stress associated with heat, desiccation and starvation. Our model system comprised two pit-building antlions: the habitat generalist Myrmeleon hyalinus and the habitat specialist Cueta lineosa. Previous research has shown that the foraging performance of the generalist is better than that of the specialist, even in the latter's characteristic habitat. We illustrate that this apparent superiority of the habitat generalist does not manifest itself along other niche axes; rather, the habitat specialist holds a set of traits that provide an advantage under harsh environmental conditions. Specifically, C. lineosa has an advantage over M. hyalinus at high temperatures, exhibiting a higher survival rate and improved foraging success (i.e., high-temperature specialist). C. lineosa is also more efficient in its energy budget, losing less mass during starvation and gaining mass more efficiently during feeding. This superior efficiency is a result of physiological adaptations as well as behavioural responses to harsh conditions. In conclusion, our results imply that the habitat specialization of C. lineosa has not led it towards an evolutionary dead-end.

publication date

  • January 1, 2012