July Lab Update

Posted by on July 21, 2012 
Filed under Lab updates, Student updates

The Insect Ecology Lab (IEL) at UNE has been busy with a wide variety of projects on the boil. Nigel Andrew has been busy teaching with the implementation of trimesters at UNE this year. Teaching an Insect Plant Interactions unit starting in June at 1000m altitude has led to a wide range of new insects finding themselves living within the laboratories and glasshouses: which has opened up some interesting new research leads. We have been harbouring aphids, ants, dung beetles, stick insects, Helicoverpa, and diamond back moth. Once it warms up a little we will also be trying Acacia psyllids and a suite of new ant species.
Graham Hall has received a small grant from the Border Rivers-Gwydir CMA to expand his study of beneficial insects in grassy banks adjacent to cropping land. Following the successful sampling of Travelling Stock Reserves in November 2011, Graham will be sampling on-farm areas in the Tycannah Creek area in November 2012 and March 2013. This project will coincide with the visit of Drs Nicholas Aebischer and John Holland from the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) in the UK to the IEL at UNE in early August. The GWCT has been responsible for developing and exploring the benefits of beetle banks within cropping systems in Europe for many years, and we hope that their expertise will advance the grassy banks project. Graham is making slow, but hopefully steady, progress with identifying the chalcid wasps caught in the Travelling Stock Route sampling project last year. John LaSalle has been very helpful in this endeavour by providing names to voucher specimens, and so far we think there are >60 wasp species in the samples – not bad for 1 day’s work! The freezing temperatures have brought the dung beetle trapping in New England to a sudden halt. However, before the winter recess Onthophagus binodis was the most common exotic species and O. granulatus and O. australis were the most common native species. Hopefully, trapping will re-commence in September.
Matt Binns has been very busy, coming to the pointy end of his PhD. An estimated 350,000 insects have been collected from about 50 sites around NSW and Vic over four seasons. The current focus is on assessing the diversity of Thysanoptera in terms of species composition and morphological traits. Using data from this collection we will model how community composition changes based on a broad range of climatic, chemical and genetic variables. Using recently developed statistical methods that allow generalised linear modelling to be applied directly to a multivariate response matrix, we will be able to go beyond the single species modelling to get a better idea of species interactions. In addition to this, a novel ‘fourth-corner’ modelling approach will be used to help explain how the relative abundance of morphologies changes in response to climatic and plant-chemical variables.
Michelle Yates is almost finished writing up her second paper from her honours research and is starting to plan for my PhD publishing strategy. She is about to start her third field season in my sites north of Moree, NSW, and is am focusing on the pollinator networks of woody remnants found in stock routes and isolated within cropped paddocks. She is presenting her PhD research from 2010 and 2011 field work, and discussing the 2012 field work plans, at ICE in Daegu next month.
Isobel Roberts is assessing the impacts of climate change on Acacia psyllids. Her project has the current focus being on learning how to use the database Biota. With this she hopes to get a good measure of the number of Psyllids present on the particular Acacia species she will be examining. Also, Isobel has been compiling literature regarding the emission of volatiles by plants, herbivory and modelling interactions using game theory. All topics are leaning towards the idea of variation from the normal due to climate change. Isobel has also completed collecting the data with regards to the operation of the GCMS and EAG machines that the lab has newly acquired and hopes to have those protocols established in the laboratory soon.
Sandia Wong is currently working on her first paper (introduction chapter) in regards to the distribution of ant species richness along elevational gradient in the Gwydir catchment. She have currently divided the data which Ian Oliver (co-supervisor) has provided me into three different elevational areas (tableland, slopes and plains). Along with Nigel Andrew (supervisor), we are going to examine the effects of three factors on ant diversity: temperature, precipitation and land use. In addition we are going to test the hypothesis that ant species richness will decrease due to the increase in elevation, precipitation, land use and decrease in temperature.
Rhiannon Gwyn has started a Masters project assessing the thermal tolerance and population dynamics of the dung beetle Bubas bison. Even though it is rather chilly up here, Bernard Doube (Dung Beetle Solutions South Australia) was able to supply some capable and eager dung feeders. Zac Hemmings has also started a new honours project assessing the thermal properties and dynamics of New England ants.
The GRDC funded project “Introduction and Extension of IPM in Northern NSW” with Nereda Christian and Rachel Waugh has now ceased being funded. Nereda is now the proud mother of a baby boy, Daniel, and Rachel is continuing work at UNE with a teaching role as head first year Biology demonstrator, and working with Tommy Leung assessing parasite in the bodies of various aquatic animals including dragonfly larvae found on the New England Tablelands. Also Gia Minh Hoang recently submitted his Masters thesis: Response of aphids to their host plants and artificial diets under controlled temperatures.
Nigel, Matt and Michelle will all be presenting work at ICE next month in Daegu, South Korea.

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