Honours Projects

Insect Ecology Honours projects 2014/2015

1. Does Structural Complexity Determine the Morphology of Assemblages along an environmental gradient? Using a gradient from either the coast to Guyra, (or from Guyra to west of Moree) to test if ant traits respond consistently to habitat complexity across geographically independent ant assemblages, using an experimental approach and baits.
Key reference:
Gibb, H. & Parr, C.L. (2013) Does structural complexity determine the morphology of assemblages? An experimental test on three continents. PLoS ONE, 8, e64005. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0064005

2. 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.
Key references:
Diamond, S.E., Penick, C.A., Pelini, S.L., Ellison, A.M., Gotelli, N.J., Sanders, N.J. & Dunn, R.R. (2013) Using physiology to predict the responses of ants to climatic warming. Integrative and Comparative Biology, 53, 965-974. doi: 10.1093/icb/ict085.
Stuble, K.L., Pelini, S.L., Diamond, S.E., Fowler, D.A., Dunn, R.R. & Sanders, N.J. (2013) Foraging by forest ants under experimental climatic warming: A test at two sites. Ecology and Evolution, 3, 482-491.
Diamond, S.E., Nichols, L.M., McCoy, N., Hirsch, C., Pelini, S.L., Sanders, N.J., Ellison, A.M., Gotelli, N.J. & Dunn, R.R. (2012) A physiological trait-based approach to predicting the responses of species to experimental climate warming. Ecology, 93, 2305-2312.
Andrew, N.R., Hart, R.A., Jung, M.-P., Hemmings, Z. & Terblanche, J.S. (2013) Can temperate insects take the heat? A case study of the physiological and behavioural responses in a common ant, Iridomyrmex purpureus (Formicidae), with potential climate change. Journal of Insect Physiology, 59, 870-880. doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2013.06.003

3. 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.
Key references:
Menéndez, R., González-Megías, A., Jay-Robert, P. & Marquéz-Ferrando, R. (2014) Climate change and elevational range shifts: evidence from dung beetles in two European mountain ranges. Global Ecology and Biogeography, n/a-n/a. doi: 10.1111/geb.12142.
Yates, M.L., Andrew, N.R., Binns, M. & Gibb, H. (2014) Morphological traits: predictable responses to macrohabitats across a 300 km scale. PeerJ, 2, e271. doi: 10.7717/peerj.271.
Brown, A.M., Warton, D.I., Andrew, N.R., Binns, M., Cassis, G. & Gibb, H. (2014) The fourth-corner solution – using predictive models to understand how species traits interact with the environment. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 5, 344-352. doi: 10.1111/2041-210X.12163

4. 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.
Key references:
Whipple, S.D. & Hoback, W.W. (2012) A Comparison of Dung Beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae) Attraction to Native and Exotic Mammal Dung. Environmental Entomology, 41, 238-244. doi: 10.1603/en11285.
Johansson, J. & Jonzén, N. (2012) Game theory sheds new light on ecological responses to current climate change when phenology is historically mismatched. Ecology Letters, n/a-n/a. doi: 10.1111/j.1461-0248.2012.01812.x

5. Role of dung beetles in mediating gas fluxes in dung pats – influence of temperature and dung quality.
Key reference:
Penttilä, A., Slade, E.M., Simojoki, A., Riutta, T., Minkkinen, K. & Roslin, T. (2013) Quantifying Beetle-Mediated Effects on Gas Fluxes from Dung Pats. PLoS ONE, 8, e71454. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071454

6. 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.
Key reference:
Escobar, F., Halffter, G., Solís, Á., Halffter, V. & Navarrete, D. 2008 Temporal shifts in dung beetle community structure within a protected area of tropical wet forest: a 35-year study and its implications for long-term conservation. Journal of Applied Ecology 45, 1584-1592.

7. 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.
Key reference:
Larsen, T.H. & Forsyth, A. 2005 Trap Spacing and Transect Design for Dung Beetle Biodiversity Studies1. Biotropica 37, 322-325.

There are other projects happening with ants/dung beetles and aphids among others.

Please get in touch with Nigel Andrew for more details

Phone: +61 2 6773 2937
Email: nigel.andrew@une.edu.au

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