Latitudinal variation in habitat specificity of ameronothrid mites (Oribatida)
Ameronothroid mites, including Ameronothridae, Fortuyniidae and Selenoribatidae, are unique among the Oribatida through having a global distribution from the tropics to the poles, and occupying a diversity of habitats including terrestrial, marine and freshwater. Their ecological diversification is of considerable interest from both the perspective of evolution over geological timescales, and the detail of the underlying processes. Given their widespread global distribution, it seems likely that historical global events (tectonic and climatic) have played a fundamental role in their ecological diversification. Previous studies of sub-Antarctic island arthropods have generated considerable circumstantial evidence in support of glaciation being a primary factor influencing ecological patterns: lower habitat specificity and weaker interspecific interactions are associated with more recent (postglacial) vegetated terrestrial biotopes, as compared to the older epilithic and littoral biotopes (which are assumed to have been present, albeit reduced in extent, during Neogene glacial maxima). Here, we use ameronothrid mites as a case study to examine the extent to which the above island scenario generalizes globally across latitudes affected by glaciation. We show that, unlike congeners or even conspecifics at lower latitudes in each hemisphere which are restricted to marine environments, the species found at higher latitudes (especially Alaskozetes antarcticus, Ameronothrus dubinini, Ameronothrus lineatus, and Halozetes belgicae) show greater affinity for terrestrial environments. They show a transition or expansion of habitat use (from marine-influenced to terrestrial habitats) implicit with a lower degree of habitat specificity, in relation to increasing latitude. We contend that the terrestrial environment at higher latitudes in both hemispheres has been colonized by these ameronothrid mite species following the various glaciation events, facilitated by a lack of competition experienced in their low diversity communities, in a manner which represents a larger scale demonstration of the processes described on sub-Antarctic islands.