Little Things that Run the World opens at NERAM

Posted onAugust 17, 2014 
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Kirsti Abbott and the Insect Ecology Lab have been part of setting up a new exhibition and community outreach program at NERAM




The North Western Regional Science Hub presents a “Science Meets Art” event at NERAM to celebrate National Science Week (and beyond) – introducing children to the School of Ants Project through an interactive and creative experience exploring the life of ants.

From 16 August to 19 October, Little things that run the world offers the community an opportunity to imagine life as an ant.

Explore the giant sculptural ants’ nest in the foyer of NERAM. Imagine entering an ant’s nest, controlling workers, protecting queens and foraging for food. Make your own ants, larvae or other life stages and put them in tunnels and chambers to grow the colony.
Be a part of the AntBlitz at Black Gully on 21 September. Over a 24 hour period ants will be hunted, counted and identified. Anyone can sign up to join the blitz and learn about their local ants; use microscopes and Winkler bags, and help with research through the School of Ants at the University of New England. Bookings:
Create a giant ant in the courtyard at NERAM for ArtPlay Day on 19 October.
Take an ‘Ant Walk’ along Black Gully and explore the newly created Ant Hotels!



Farewell to Senshan

Posted onAugust 17, 2014 
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Senshan’s 12 month visit to the Insect Ecology Lab has come to an end. Senshan was working with aphids and developing optimum artificial diets for growth and reproduction. Its been great having him in the lab and he will be missed.

Eleanor Slade visits the Insect Ecology Lab

Posted onAugust 17, 2014 
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Eleanor Slade from the University of Oxford visited the Insect Ecology Lab to talk dung beetles, ecosystem funcitoning and greenhouse gas fluxes. She have a seminar titled: “Dung beetles as a model taxon for studying biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships”.

Ant Thermolimit poster now up at SEB Manchester

Posted onJuly 1, 2014 
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Nigel is at the Society of Experimental Biology meeting in Manchester. He is presenting the work he, Behnaz, and Berlize Groenewald from Stellenbosch Uni have been working on:
Thermolimit respirometry in dominant meat ants: Does microenvironment temperature influence responses?

‘School of Ants’ Citizen Science project now live!

Posted onJune 4, 2014 
Filed under Kirsti Abbott, Lab updates, Nigel Andrew | Leave a Comment

This week our School of Ants national citizen science project has gone live.
You can access it at and we encourage you to register if you feel so inclined.

The site will go through several phases to include an interactive map to allow contributors to see their data.
There have already been 12 schools from the coast to the top of the range that have participated in the project, and environmental education centres around NSW will take on the project for schools that visit their centres as it warms up.
Regular news and blog posts will appear on the site, and summaries and updates of data collected will be posted quarterly.

It represents a great ready made project for kids or families to get outside and learn about the little things that run the world.
So feel free to forward to anyone you think might like to participate.

Updates on PeerJ Climate Change Paper

Posted onApril 10, 2014 
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PeerJ have run a research updates blog on our paper

Andrew, N.R., Hill, S.J., Binns, M., Bahar, M.H., Ridley, E.V., Jung, M.-P., Fyfe, C., Yates, M. & Khusro, M. (2013) Assessing insect responses to climate change: What are we testing for? Where should we be heading? PeerJ, 1, e11. doi: 10.7717/peerj.11

see it here

New postrdoc in the lab – Jean Drayton

Posted onApril 1, 2014 
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Jean Drayton has joined the Insect Ecology Lab this week – welcome Jean!

She is a postdoc working with dung beetles and greenhouse gas emissions.

Online early version of 4th Corner manuscript now available

Posted onJanuary 30, 2014 
Filed under Matt Binns, New lab publications, Nigel Andrew | Leave a Comment

Brown AM, Warton DI, Andrew NR, 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 doi 10.1111/2041-210X.12163.

can be found here

Chi’s PLOS One manuscript now published

Posted onJanuary 30, 2014 
Filed under New lab publications, Nigel Andrew, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment

Nguyen, C., Bahar, H., Baker, G. & Andrew, N.R. (2014) Thermal tolerance limits of diamondback moth in ramping and plunging assays. PLOS ONE 9: e87535 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0087535.

PDF copy can be found here

Insect communities to stay the same under a changing climate?

Posted onJanuary 23, 2014 
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Press release article for the manuscript “Potential impacts of climate change on insect communities: a transplant experiment”
Contact Sabine Nooten for media details

A warmer climate may lead to dramatic changes in insect communities, at least at the level of species identity. At the same time, these insect communities may remain relatively unchanged at a higher organisational level, that of the so-called feeding guild.

These findings were recently published in the journal PLOS ONE by Nooten, Andrew and Hughes (

Current climate change has already had profound effects on the ecology and distribution of many plants, animals and ecological communities, and this will undoubtedly continue into the future. While the responses of some species to future climate change can be predicted with reasonable certainty, the responses of entire communities are much harder to predict due to the complexity of species interactions. For example, present day plant-insect associations respond idiosyncratically to a warmer climate, which could lead to a break down of current community structures. Thus, to date it is still incredibly challenging to understand how a warmer climate will affect plants and their associated animals. Macquarie University researcher Sabine Nooten and her team have successfully carried out a transplant experiment to assess the responses of entire plant-insect communities to warmer climates.
“Transplant experiments are rarely used but are very powerful tools to study climate change impacts, because they offer the most direct way to test what might happen in the future. We moved plants into a warmer climate – one that these plants will probably experience within their current location during the next few decades. We then investigated the colonisation of the plants by insects under natural conditions.” says the lead author Dr. Nooten.

Transplant experiments
Nooten and colleagues carried out a multispecies transplant experiment in coastal southeast Australia to investigate the potential effects of a warmer climate on the species composition of insect communities, and their structure. Eight Australian plant species were transplanted into sites 600 km closer to the equator, and 2.5ºC warmer (mean annual temperature) than the plants’ native range. As a control, plants were also transplanted into the centre of the plants’ native range. The insect colonisation of all these plants was then monitored for one year.
The researchers found that the composition of the community, in terms of the identity of the species, is dramatically changed in the warmer climate – that is, most of the insects colonising the transplanted plants in the warmer climate were different species to those that use the plant in its current range. Despite this, they found that the range of ecological roles performed by the new species was very similar to those of the original communities.

“Leaf chewing insects were replaced by leaf chewers, sap sucking insects by sap sucking insects, predators by predators, and so on. Our results suggest that as the climate warms, most species may be progressively replaced by others, but the distribution of feeding types may retain some elements of their present-day structure.” says Dr. Nooten.
“The high level of consistency in the insect community suggests that as insects migrate to track climate change, they may colonise new host plants by replacing species with the same foraging function.”
These findings are relevant to our understanding of community level responses to climate change. While field transplant experiments are time- and labour-intensive they are valuable tools for identifying broad impacts of future climate change on community structure and composition.

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