Niche filtering rather than partitioning shapes the structure of forest and communities

1. An ever-increasing number of studies use tools from community phylogenetics to infer the processes underlying the assembly of communities. However, very few studies simultaneously use experimental approaches to characterize the ecological niches of species and directly assess the importance of these structuring processes. 2. In this study, we developed an experimental approach for quantifying the use of four types of food resources and three habitat templets in temperate forest ant assemblages. We then used null models to assess whether niches overlapped more or less than expected by chance. Finally, we integrated comparative phylogenetic methods with experimental data on niche use to assess the degree of phylogenetic signal in several key components of the niche. 3. We found that niche filtering, rather than partitioning, was the predominant structuring force. Niche filtering resulted from conservatism in habitat niches in evolutionary time and limitations in the availability of food resources in ecological time. 4. Our study thus supports the idea that similarities in niches among species, rather than the differences, drive the assembly of ant communities.