Tiny creatures restore ecosystems

La Trobe researchers are examining the role that minibeasts play in environmental restoration

What are minibeasts and how can they help restore declining ecosystems?

New research from Peter Contos and Professor Heloise Gibb looks at the big role these tiny creatures play in environmental restoration.

“Minibeasts are invertebrates, such as beetles, spiders and worms, and microbes that make up the majority of biodiversity. They perform important ecosystem functions such as decomposition and nutrient cycling,” explains Mr Contos, lead author.

“Land-clearing and agricultural intensification has caused a loss of biodiversity and a decline in ecological function. Efforts to address this damage have focused on revegetation to restore ecosystems. Despite their important role, minibeasts have been largely ignored in restoration attempts.”

“In this project, we aimed to test the efficacy of new methods to rapidly restore biodiversity of minibeasts to areas of farmland that have been revegetated but continue to have reduced numbers of invertebrates and microbes.”

To do this, the team tested whether transplanting litter and all its component biodiversity could address this gap.

Professor Gibb said the litter transplants showed promising results.

“We found that beetles were the main group to benefit from the litter transplants. Transplants increased the species richness of beetles in revegetation sites to a similar level to what is found in remnant sites,” she says.

“Second, ecosystem functions can be improved, even if not all species become established.  The experimental transplants increased litter decomposition rates, mainly due to an increase in litter arthropods, rather than microbes.”

“This suggests that our technique can be effective in restoring both biodiversity and ecosystem function.”