Increasing woody vegetation and reducing land use intensity could mitigate the impacts of climate change on insect biodiversity, according to new research by the University of New England, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, and the University of Melbourne.
Associate Professor Nigel Andrew from UNE’s School of Environmental and Rural Sciences says he and colleagues set out to assess how adapting landscapes can improve insect biodiversity conservation with a changing climate.
“We found that having more native trees and shrubs on a farm will enhance ant biodiversity and help mitigate the impacts of climate change. If you have a lot of exotic vegetation and bare ground, then many ant species will become more vulnerable to rapid change” said A/Prof Andrew.
Researchers sampled ant biodiversity across a 270-kilometre elevation gradient, west of Armidale, in New South Wales. The sites they sampled varied in vegetation cover and land-use.
A/Prof Andrew says 210-thousand arthropods were collected and sorted into major groups, and ants (making up 63% of the collection) were identified further to species level.
“There was greater ant richness associated with greater native woody plant canopy cover, while there was lower species richness with higher cultivation, grazing intensity and exotic plants.”
A/Prof Andrew says ant diversity is critical for the environment and landholders. “Ants dominate the environment we live in so if you lose ant species you can lose ecosystem functions. Ants collect seeds, aerate the soil and predate on pests. If you change the type of ants in an environment you can change the dynamics and ecology of your landscape. Once lost, the remaining species may not be as efficient at delivering function to the environment so the ecosystem can become less resilient to change.”
Researchers are using predictive modelling to help land managers see the impact that changing grazing intensity or the type of land cover, can have on ant richness.
“If you are able to modify land practises, if you want to build in resilience to environmental change on your farm then managing and increasing native vegetation is an important component: not only will it help in the health of the landscape but it will also help them become more adaptable to a warming climate.”