Insect Ecology potential projects

Contact Nigel if you are interested in these research projects at UNE

 

Potential projects with James here

 

 

Ant projects

 

  • What is the impact of temperature and nutrition on ant physiology?

This will be a field and lab based assessment of common ant species around New England assessing impact of higher temperatures and nutrient addition to ants in the field, and experimental manipulation of ants in the lab in small lab colonies.

 

  • Influence of structural complexity and size of substrate material on ant nest construction efficiency across an altitudinal gradient.

This project complements examination of whether or not habitat complexity determines morphology of ants. Changing substrate material, temperature and humidity/soil moisture across environmental gradients could potentially alter all nest variables for multiple species.

 

  • Oxygen- and capacity-limited thermal tolerance in ants.

A mismatch between oxygen availability and metabolic demand may constrain thermal tolerance. Here we will test the findings of Boardman and Terblanche to see if they hold for meat ants, and how they are controlled by the central nervous system.

 

 

Back to top

Dung Beetle Projects

  • Individual dispersal of dung beetles around paddocks

You will work with computer science and mathematicians to develop individual based models to determine dung beetle dispersal.  This may include using harmonic radar to follow the beetles, and developing Individual/ Agent based models.

 

  • Climate change effects on dung beetle development and performance

Dung beetles (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) provide a multi-million dollar ecosystem service to the Australian cattle industry by accelerating dung decomposition. The activity of beetles removes dung from pastures, enhances nutrient cycling, increases water penetration and soil aeration, destroys the breeding sites of fly pests, reduces the free living stages of gastro-intestinal parasites of livestock and increases carbon storage in soils. The available evidence indicates that climate change will substantially impact dung beetles (e.g. warming has been shown to induce changes in egg laying, development, habitat preferences and distribution of species); however more studies are needed to quantify the impact of climate change on the valuable dung burial service that dung beetles provide. This study will 1) quantify the impact of warming on dung burial by different species of dung beetles and 2) test if species rich communities of dung beetles are better able to sustain dung burial under climate change compared to species poor communities.

Ideally T3 start

 

  • How do dung beetle communities change along environmental and climatic gradients?

Collecting dung beetles from properties from the coast to Moree in spring and summer and assessing species composition and morphological traits of assemblages and using novel statistical models to compare how morphological traits response to key environmental traits.

 

  • How do dung beetles compete for different resources under different climatic and nutritional regimes?

This will be a lab-based assessment of dung beetle competition for abundant and scarce resources. Also including game theory to test interactions within and between species.

 

  • Temporal changes in dung beetle assemblages and sex ratios.

This project will have replicated dung beetle traps on farming properties (farm yet to be determine) to assess changes in the adult dung beetle communities and their sex ratios over time.

 

  • How far to dung beetles move to get attracted to a food source?

A range of different dung types in pasture and forest will be tested at a range of distances and coordinates will be used to test how marked dung beetles move and find food sources. A previous study has shown that 50m between transects is adequate for reducing trap interference, but this has not been tested in Australia, nor with different dung types.

 

  • Can species rich communities of dung beetles sustain ecosystem services in the face of perturbations?

Various invertebrate taxa provide ecosystem services that are useful to humans, for example, nutrient cycling and crop pollination. It has been suggested that species rich communities of invertebrates are better able to sustain ecosystem services in the face of disturbances. Dung beetles provide several valuable ecosystem services such as dung burial, nutrient cycling, soil aeration and seed dispersal. Anthelmintics, used to control livestock parasites, negatively affect dung beetles and can regarded as a disturbance that can affect dung burial and hence the ecosystem services provided by beetles. During this project, you will assess if species rich communities are better able to sustain dung burial in the face of perturbation with anthelmintic cattle drenches. To do this, you will compare the dung burial of poly and mono-cultures of dung beetle species using either invermectin free or ivermevtin treated dung.

Key reference: Beynon SA, Mann DJ, Slade EM, Lewis OT 2012. Species-rich dung beetle communities buffer ecosystem services in perturbed agro-ecosystems. Journal of Applied Ecology. 49: 1365–1372

 

  • How does dung beetle community structure change across habitat types and does habitat complexity affect dung beetle response traits?

This project will involve trapping dung beetles in a range of sites from highly disturbed pastures to pristine forests. A range of morphological traits will be measured at each site.

 

  • Does dung beetle activity enhance the growth of woody and herbaceous plants in a temperature climate?

Field plots will be established to allow dung beetle populations to be controlled and plant traits will be assessed.

 

  • How do dung beetle community assemblages change with the introduction of an exotic species to a native environment?

Changes in dung beetle community assemblage will be assessed in Guy Fawkes national park across sites along a gradient of horse activity.

 

  • What do the different dung beetle functional groups contribute to ecosystem services?

The contribution of the different dung beetle functional groups to a wide range of ecosystem services will be assessed as well as looking at how species diversity can affect the ecosystem services they provide.

 

  • Are morphological traits in dung beetles a result of soil preference or phylogeny?

Dung beetles can be categorised based on their nesting behaviours. These nesting behaviours are not a result of shared phylogeny. This project will involve conducting morphometric analyses on dung beetles from a range of functional groups and taxons to determine whether morphology is derived from phylogeny or the qualities of the beetles preferred soil.

 

Back to top

Insect herbivores

  • Response of Australian grassland invertebrates to a changing climate.

Invertebrates were collected from grasslands across a range of climates in NSW and Victoria to assess the influence of climate on species composition. Hymenoptera, Hemiptera and Coleoptera have been extracted from Themeda triandra samples ready to be identified further and potentially have their morphology assessed. Other orders may also be extracted from the samples for further analysis. There are also samples from other grass species that can also be sampled.  **All labwork**

 

 

  • Identification key to scarab beetle larvae in Northern Tableland pastures using DNA barcoding and integrative taxonomy.

Scarab beetles in the Northern tablelands are characterised by long larval stages and short pupal and adult stages. However, it is often the adults of the species that are identified, with little attention paid to larval identification. This is unfortunate because it is the larval stage that is usually associated with pasture and environmental damage. This project seeks to compare mitochondrial DNA variation from scarab larvae collected from the Northern Tablelands with sequences from scarab adults collected in the same locations, and then link the larval specimens with the identified adult specimens. In addition the larvae will be identified through morphological characteristics, and a key will be developed to the species in the Northern Tablelands.

 

 

Thermal performance

  • Oxygen- and capacity-limited thermal tolerance in ants.

A mismatch between oxygen availability and metabolic demand may constrain thermal tolerance. Here we will test the findings of Boardman and Terblanche to see if they hold for meat ants, and how they are controlled by the central nervous system.

 

  • What is the impact of temperature and nutrition on ant physiology?

This will be a field and lab based assessment of common ant species around New England assessing impact of higher temperatures and nutrient addition to ants in the field, and experimental manipulation of ants in the lab in small lab colonies.

 

  • Does Aphid/Ant/Dung Beetle nutrition influence thermolimits and respirometry?

We have been assessing how the insects that are used in the lab respire under controlled conditions, but we are becoming interested in how nutritional influences the ability of animals to adapt to extreme temperatures. This will have substantial consequences for understanding adaptations and influences of climate change – i.e. does what you eat confer more thermal adaptability.  Any of the insects that we currently use in the lab can be used for this project.

 

 

There are other projects happening with ants/ dung beetles and aphids among others. Please get in touch with Nigel for more details.

 

 

Back to top

 

 

Insect Ecology Lab

Natural History Museum (W77)

University of New England

Armidale NSW 2031

Australia

nigel.andrew@une.edu.au

61 (0)2 6773 2937