Landscape scale effects of animal behaviour: Are ants planting Australia's forests?

A project undertaken at the School of Environmentaal and Rural Science, University of New England, and supervised by Dr James O'Hanlon


Australia is a global hotspot for ‘myrmecochory’, a mutualistic adapatation where tree seeds are collected by ants and carried into ant nests. Australia has a ‘megadiverse’ ant fauna and also contains more ant-dispersed lineages of plants than any other continent. A lesser-known fact is that certain stick and leaf insects (Phasmatodea) use a convergent dispersal strategy for their eggs suggesting that ants are likely to be significant drivers of evolutionary processes and dispersal patterns in these insects. Thus, not only do ants drive distribution patterns in Australian forests, but are likely to be a keystone species in creating ecological communities by forming associations between insects and their host plants. This project explores why ant-based dispersal is so common in Australia, and assess whether ant behaviour influences forest distribution and biodiversity patterns across the continent.This research will provide fundamental information on the importance of ants as dispersal agents for plants and insects.

 

Figure 1. James O’Hanlon surveying ant behavior in the New England Tablelands. Photo by Sean Moore.