ECOSYSTEMS & THE ENVIRONMENT: Examine the composition of ants in forest, edge and pasture habitats and determine whether species diversity is related to land use
Logistics:. Note that this exercise and subsequent report write-up is worth 25% of your total marks for the unit. You may make your own way to and from the site – if so, please note when we aim to commence and complete the activity.
Background & Aim:
Different species exhibit different reactions to land use change and habitat fragmentation – some may be more vulnerable than others. This means that the composition of plant and animal communities differ between remnants and continuous forest, and with varying land management history.
In this practical you will examine one ecosystem property – species diversity – and investigate how it may be influenced by land use change. Measures of diversity are usually based on the numbers of species and their relative abundance – low species diversity is associated with disturbance or degradation.
Today you will visit one of the largest remaining patches of forest in the Samford Valley; however, this site has been grazed, burnt and slashed in the past. You will investigate whether the species composition of ants at this site can be related to management history. To do this, you will survey ants in forest (grazed but not slashed), and pasture (grazed and slashed) habitats. Furthermore, edge habitats are generally more vulnerable to disturbance and abiotic influences (changes in light, wind etc) than interior habitats and may exhibit changes in species composition (often edge specialists or opportunist species dominate).
- To examine the composition of ants in forest, edge and pasture habitats and determine whether species diversity is related to land use
Working in groups of 6, you will take 6 petri dishes and fill 3 with sugar syrup and 3 with protein and place them in one of the 3 habitat types (forest, edge and pasture). Make sure you put some flagging tape nearby to indicate location of the trap. While ants recruit to these food sources, your group should move at least 5 metres away from these traps and commence a ground search. Each member of your group should spend 30 mins searching thoroughly the ground, shrubs (particularly flowering plants) and trees and collect any ants using a paintbrush. Place ants into a collection tube filled with ethanol. After 30 mins, collect your petri dishes and return to the SERF barracks.
At the barracks, sort your ants into morphospecies (i.e., different looking species). Because Australian ants are very diverse, with several thousand species described in more than one hundred genera, we will use a morphospecies approach (as opposed to taxonomic species identification). Tally the number of morphospecies to obtain an estimate of species richness. Species richness is the simplest measure of diversity and will be used in this exercise.
Each group will require 6 petri dishes (3 filled with sugar, 3 with protein), flagging tape, 5 x paintbrushes, 1 tube filled with ethanol.
FIELD REPORT 3 – Ant Diversity at SERF
Weight: 25% (of total marks for the unit)
Requirements: 2500 words (±10% and not including references), 12 point times new roman font or equivalent, with 1.5 line spacing
Title Page: should include title, word count, your name and student number.
- Introduction & Aim(s)
- Materials & Methods
- Using the class data, examine whether there is a difference in the number of species in the different habitats (hint: graph and use ANOVA test)
- Using the class data, examine whether there is a difference in species composition across the 3 habitats. Consider how many species are common and how many are unique. (hint: compile table of similarity in ant communities)
- Compare data from 2016/7 (this will be provided) with 2018
- Discussion (consider and discuss the following points – use scientific literature to support your answers)
- Explain why there is (or is not) a difference in number and composition.
- Was this what you expected? If not, why not?
- What biotic and abiotic factors might have influenced your results?
- How could this survey be improved?
- Other discussion points??
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