School of Ants Australia is a citizen-scientist driven project based in the Insect Ecology Lab, inspired by the international recognized project developed in North Carolina in the USA (link to original school).
The aim of our project is to involve Australian students, teachers, parents, kids, and junior and senior enthusiasts of all stripes to uncover a world of ants at our feet, in our homes, schools and parks.
Where are the invasive species?
Are there some ant species that occur all across Australia?
And can we find them?
Assessing how dung beetles (populations, species and communities) respond to climatic fluctuations at different life stages, while competing for resources is critical for understanding how performance changes under different scenarios.
Predicting how dung beetles respond to climate change is critical as they are important ecosystem service providers.
We will be using ecological, physiological, and behavioural research, and incorporating crucial competitive interactions to carry out this research.
Dung Beetle Express is a collaboration between the Insect Ecology Lab and the Granite Borders Landcare Committee.
Originally, the Dung Beetle Express commenced in late 1998 and was funded by the Natural Heritage Trust, Australian Geographic Society and the North West Catchment Management Committee. The project aimed to increase dung beetle activity from The Summit in Queensland to Walcha in New South Wales. During that time a large amount of data has been collected, and good relationships have been developed to fulfil the aims of the project.
The collaboration involves the use of facilities at UNE and researchers in the Insect Ecology lab who have a long-term interest in continuing to give advice to local landholders, and carry out research on their properties. Landcare has the local contacts and would benefit from having information gathered at a regional level, and a central repository of data and expertise that would have a long-term home and support.
Insect species are the most diverse group of organisms on Earth and over 50% of them are herbivores. Herbivorous insects exert a global influence on terrestrial plant diversity and biomass, consuming approximately ten percent of net primary production, sometimes defoliating entire forests. Insect herbivore assemblages are complex, but currently we have little understanding of the interacting factors underpinning their structure. Some attempts have been made to assess the importance of climate, host plant phylogeny, and host plant traits in influencing insect assemblage structure; however, the influence of all three factors in relation to each other is not understood.
Ecology of insect herbivore communities: influence of climate, evolutionary history and plant traits
This project has two main aims:
AIM 1. To determine the relative importance of climate, host plant evolutionary history (phylogeny), and host plant traits on herbivore assemblages on Acacia. Each component will be addressed separately, and then their relative importance will be assessed using a unique conceptual framework. The following questions and associated hypotheses will be tested:
Q1. How does the structure of herbivore feeding guilds differ between climate zones?
Hypothesis 1: External foliage feeders (leaf chewers and sap-feeder guilds) and seed predators have the greatest diversity and abundance in the subtropical zone > temperate > grassland > desert. In contrast, leaf miners and plant-gallers do not show any consistent trends between climatic zones.
Q2. What effect does plant phylogeny have on herbivore feeding guilds?
Hypothesis 2: Different phylogenetic groups of plants will support different suites of herbivores within different feeding guilds. Plant species more closely related will have a herbivore community structure more similar to each other compared to more distantly related species.
Q3. How do plant species traits (wider distributions, higher abundance, different chemical and morphological traits) influence the diversity of herbivore communities?
Hypothesis 3: Herbivore diversity is highest on host plants with high local abundance and wide geographical ranges. Individual feeding guilds will be influenced in different ways by tougher leaves, variable C:N ratios and phenolic compounds.
AIM 2: To assess the impact of herbivores on their host plants. This aim will be addressed by testing the following question and hypothesis:
Q4. What impact do climate, host plant phylogeny, and host plant traits have on rates of herbivory by different feeding guilds?
Hypothesis 4: Rates of herbivory are consistent across all climate zones, host plant phylogeny, and plant traits.
Temperature and resource availability are of fundamental importance to animal physiology, behaviour and ecology. Among insects, responses may vary according to mean temperature variation, predictability, and/or extremes in the thermal environment. These factors can be easily quantified in insects due to the strong mechanistic links between metabolism, development, performance and the thermal environment. Understanding these processes is critical, as the body temperature of insects influences how they adapt to their environment, their capability to survive, grow, reproduce and disperse. In order to determine the influence of climate change on insects, an understanding of differences in their key performance traits (physiological, behavioural and ecological traits) is required at different life stages of populations, within species when put under different climatic pressures, and among species facing similar climatic pressures.
In the lab we measure metabolic rates at different body temperatures, and also measure traits such as Warming Tolerance and Thermal Safety Margins: these are important indices as they characterise the geographic covariances of thermal performance curves and climate.
61 (0)2 6773 2937