Impacts of anthropogenic fires and invasive ants on native ant diversity in New Caledonia: from genes to communities

Impacts of anthropogenic fires and invasive ants on native ant diversity in New Caledonia: from genes to communities

Fri, 14/12/2012 - 09:30

About the Presenter

Maia Berman

Maia Berman started her PhD in September 2009, and is enrolled with both RIEL (CDU) and SIBAGHE-AMAP (Universite de Montpellier) in France. While in Darwin she divided her time between the CSIRO ant lab in Berrimah and the genetic lab at CDU. Her research interests are in conservation biology, myrmecology, community ecology, population genetics, biogeography.

Her master by research, conducted in 2007 at the CNRS lab in France, investigated the effects of age on survival and reproduction in three long-lived antarctic seabird species, using longitudinal capture-recapture data.


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Habitat destruction, biological invasions and their interaction are global drivers of biodiversity loss. The New Caledonian hotspot of biodiversity is threatened by both anthropogenic fires and invasive ants: it is important to understand their impacts on its biota. Because biodiversity spans several levels of organisation (from genes to communities) and relates to different attributes (compositional, structural and functional), this thesis takes a hierarchical approach to address this issue.

Ants are of great ecological importance, especially in tropical biomes, and their classification into functional groups provides a global framework for analysing their response to disturbance. My aims were therefore to investigate the impacts of anthropogenic fires and invasive ants, and their interaction, on the native New Caledonian ant fauna at different spatial (global, regional, local) and temporal (short and long term) scales, and at different levels of biological organisation (community, species, genes).

The study contributes to an improved knowledge of the New Caledonian ants, by revealing the lack of specialised subterranean species, and by investigating island-scale patterns of ant communities, in relation to habitat and invasion. The mechanisms by which fire impacts native ants, either as a standalone process or in association with invasion could be identified. In particular, fire, by creating macro- and microhabitats favoured by invasive ants, facilitates invasion, which then causes further diversity declines, either in the short- (post-burning) or long-term (forest fragmentation).

The hierarchical approach used enabled the detection of trait-derived responses at the species and genetic level, in addition to responses measured at the community level. This study highlights the advantage of a holistic approach to investigating biodiversity-related issues.

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