Insect ecology

Gibb Lab

Lab leader

Heloise GibbDr Heloise Gibb

Associate Professor, College of Science, Health and Engineering

View profile, publications and contact details

Insects and other terrestrial arthropods are vital contributors to biodiversity and ecosystem function. Our research is focused on the ecology and conservation of this fascinating group, with an emphasis on biotic and abiotic drivers of community structure.  We work in a variety of ecosystems, including deserts, temperate woodlands and boreal forests and we use field and laboratory experiments, mensurative surveys and databases to address questions in the following key areas of research:

1) Trait-based approaches to understanding community structure

Functional trait-based approaches to understanding community structure are critical for identifying general rules in ecology.  We investigate the relationships between morphological, physiological and trophic traits and environmental characteristics at the community level.  Key achievements in this area include the development of a new model-based fourth-corner analysis, which allows ecologists to better predict how species traits might change in response to environmental change and the development of the Ant Traits International Collaboration (AnTIC), a collaboration involving over fifty researchers worldwide, which aims to better understand trait-environment relationships and how they are affected by global change.

2) An experimental, mechanistic understanding of species interactions

We use mechanistic, multi-scalar approaches to understanding the role of species interactions in determining community structure.  We have worked extensively with competitive interactions in ant assemblages and their context dependency.  Current projects focus on interactions resulting from reintroductions of once-widespread mammals, the outcomes for arthropod diversity and function, and the role of environmental gradients in regulating these relationships.

3) Conservation interventions in managed landscapes

We are interested in methods to improve conservation outcomes for terrestrial arthropods following anthropogenic disturbances, such as agriculture or forestry, or natural disturbances, such as fire. Our work in this area focusses on landscape-, habitat- and microhabitat-scale factors that enable colonisation by dispersal-limited and habitat-specific species.  Manipulative work in this area has focussed on the effects of dead wood additions on associated arthropod fauna.

Hear more about our research [YouTube].

Insect Ecology Laboratory on Facebook

Hear about our research on the ABC Science Show: Australia's Insects Disappearing Before Being Described and Named

Student projects

I welcome enquiries about potential Honours, PhD or postdoctoral projects in the realm of terrestrial arthropod community ecology and conservation. Possible topic areas include:

  • Effects of species reintroductions on arthropod diversity and ecosystem function
  • Biodiversity responses to refuges in fire-prone landscapes
  • Trait-environment relationships in terrestrial arthropods
  • Competition and the role of resource clustering in structuring ant assemblages
  • Restoration of insect biodiversity and function in agricultural landscapes.