Ecosystem Services in a Changing Climate

The Future Keepers: Assessing effects of thermal stress and differential resource limitation on ecosystem function providers – is the key project related to ants

The key aim of this project is to predict how key species that provide core ecosystem functions may change under thermal stress and differential resource limitation. Any changes to the biology and roles that these core species contribute (e.g. population dynamics, competition, mutualisms, metabolic rates, seed dispersal) could have substantial ramifications within an ecosystem. Ecologically important, ubiquitous and diverse organisms, such as ants, also represent ideal subjects for citizen science research.  Our project will reveal how species that provide core ecosystem functions will respond to a changing climate. In most parts of Australia, ants are the dominant ecosystem function providers. We will assess ant responses to a warmer climate at sites across Australia including on the UNE SMART Farms Kirby and Newholme.

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Ecosystem Services in a changing climate; dung beetles and climate change

There are two main aims of this project:

1) to investigate the effect that dung beetles have on greenhouse gas emissions from cattle farming and

2) to examine the effect that climate change will have on the dung burial service that dung beetles provide.

To investigate the first aim, we are currently comparing the greenhouse gases that are emitted from manure that is either colonised by dung beetles or that contains no beetles. To do this, we are using a closed, non-steady state chamber system to measure fluxes of CO2, CH4 and N2O from cattle dung pats. We have also measured NH3 fluxes to test the commonplace claim that dung beetles reduce nitrogen volatilization. The preliminary results suggest that dung beetles drastically reduce CH4 emissions but actually increase NH3 loss (and this may be related to whether the beetles are feeding on the surface or burying manure for brood production). Furthermore, beetles initially increase CO2 emissions but, over time, the trend is reversed with control pats (i.e. no beetles) releasing more CO2.

To investigate the second aim of this project, dung beetles will be exposed to temperature regimes that are expected under climate change and dung burial rates will be measured. Custom built climate controlled chambers will soon be built for these experiments. Not only will we assess dung burial by individual species under climate change scenarios, we will also look at the rate of burial by assemblages of beetles that vary in species richness to test if increasing species diversity makes beetle assemblages more robust to the effects of climate change.

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.

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Contact Person: Nigel Andrew