Insect ecology

Gibb lab

Postgraduate Students

James BJames Buxton

The functional significance of ant colouration

Ants are of immense ecological importance and can be strikingly colourful, ranging from diaphanous yellows to intense reds. James is exploring the colour diversification of ants from a functional perspective in order to identify associations between colour traits and the environment. This will be achieved through a broad variety of approaches including field comparisons, behavioural trials, manipulative experiments, ultrastructural investigations, and visual modelling. This novel approach will potentially enable the development and application of colour-related traits in trait-based ecological studies, as well as contribute to our understanding of animal colouration more generally.

Supervisors: Assoc. Prof. Heloise Gibb, Dr. Kylie Robert, and Prof. Mark Elgar (University of Melbourne).


Orsi Orsi Decker

Cascading effects of the native fossorial critical weight range mammals on soil ecology and function

The burrowing and foraging activity of fossorial mammals is crucial in ecosystem functioning, such as nutrient distribution and seed dispersal. The extinction of the burrowing mammals might have a huge impact on soil processes and nutrient cycles. Orsi’s project seeks to understand the terrestrial world below ground and the big picture of ecosystem functioning shaped by direct and indirect trophic interactions between fossorial mammals, invertebrates and soil properties. The research is based on large-scale replicated exclusion experiments across arid Australia where ecologically extinct fossorial mammals such as bettongs and bilbies have been reintroduced.

Supervisors: Dr Heloise Gibb, Dr Steve Leonard, and David Eldridge (UNSW).


Josh GJoshua Grubb

Going through hell: The drivers of detritivore recovery after fire

Joshua’s project aims to understand how species from four detritivorous taxa (Diplopoda, Amphipoda, Isopoda, Lepidoptera) recover following forest fires. Fire adversely impacts detritivores which, as essential contributors to decomposition reduce fuel build-up. Fire occurrence and severity therefore depends on the functioning of the detritivore community. My project centres on three aspects of detritovore recovery: 1) in-situ survival 2) survival in the post-fire environment and 3) recolonisation. Joshua expects to identify ecological factors important in recovery and that these results will have potential to inform fire management, regarding the likely impacts of fire regimes on detritivores.

Supervisor: Dr Heloise Gibb, Dr Nick Murphy, Dr Richard Marchant.


Melissa Van De Wetering

‘The little things that run the world’: The effects of large-scale dominant ant suppression on ecosystem function in Australia’s seasonal tropics.

Ants are numerically and behaviourally dominant organisms that contribute to many ecological processes. Yet despite their ubiquity in terrestrial environments, the extent of their functional contribution is poorly understood. Ant communities can be structured by dominance hierarchies where ecologically dominant species often represent a disproportionally high fraction of total ant biomass. My project aims to investigate the role of ants in a range of ecological functions, including trophic interactions and ant-plant mutualisms, by experimentally suppressing dominant ant species. This will provide insights into the disproportional functional contribution of key species, the potential for ecological redundancy and the consequences of biodiversity loss on ecosystem functioning.

Supervisors: Assoc. Prof. Heloise Gibb & Dr. Peter Green


Former students

Nicole Coggan (PhD) What are the effects of reintroducing ecologically extinct mammals on invertebrates in increasingly arid habitats?

Sebastian Buckingham  (PhD) The effects of fire severity on composition and function of leaf litter-dwelling macroinvertebrate detritivores.

Katayo Sagata (PhD)  Climate effects on ant-Hemiptera-plant interactions, ant richness and morphology.

James Buxton (Honours 2015) – An investigation into the function of pilosity and sculpturing in ants. Co-supervised by Kylie Robert (La Trobe University).

Kate Arnold (Honours 2015) – Post-fire recovery of cockroaches (Blattodea) is limited by distance in sclerophyllous woodlands. Co-supervised by Nick Murphy (La Trobe University).

Iona Okey (Honours 2014) – The effect of altitude on ant assemblage traits in the Australian Alps.

Melissa Van De Wetering (Honours 2013) – Nest relocation in beauty ants, Calomyrmex purpureus. Co-supervised by Dr Ajay Narendra (ANU). Melissa is now undertaking a PhD in the Insect Ecology Lab.

Simon Verdon (Honours 2012) – Mammal ecosystem engineers can limit plant recruitment and alter plant composition in the arid zone? Co-supervised by Steve Leonard (La Trobe University). Simon is now undertaking a PhD at La Trobe University.

Louise Menz (Honours 2012) – Amphipod population structure and tolerance to fire in a fire-prone landscape. Co-supervised by Nick Murphy (La Trobe University).

Blair Grossman (Honours 2011) – Does the reintroduction of native omnivores affect invertebrate regulation of soil structure and function? A collaboration with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Co-supervised by Matt Hayward (AWC). Blair is now employed in the Insect Ecology laboratory at La Trobe University.

Colin Silvey (Honours 2011) – How does reintroduction of threatened native omnivores affect arachnid assemblages? Collaboration with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. Co-supervised by Matt Hayward (AWC). Colin is now employed at Museum Victoria.

Philip Barton (PhD 2010) – How do we restore degraded bushland? Getting the insects back for function, food and biodiversity. Co-supervised by Professor David Lindenmayer and Dr Adrian Manning (ANU) and Saul Cunningham (CSIRO). Philip is now employed as a postdoc in Professor David Lindenmayer's group at the ANU.

Daniel Muscat (Honours 2010) – Does climate drive spider morphology and web architecture? – completed 2010. Co-supervised by Dr Nigel Andrew (UNE) and Associate Professor David Warton (UNSW).

Christopher Churcher (Honours 2010) – Home range and habitat selection by reintroduced numbats, Myrmecobius fasciatus, in Scotia Sanctuary, NSW – completed 2010. Co-supervised by Matt Hayward (AWC).