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Grantee Research Project Results

Grantee Research Project Results

Disruption of Ant Communities by Climatic Warming

EPA Grant Number: FP917235
Title: Disruption of Ant Communities by Climatic Warming
Investigators: Stuble, Katharine Lisa
Institution: University of Tennessee - Knoxville
EPA Project Officer: Jones, Brandon
Project Period: August 1, 2010 through July 31, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010)
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Global Change

Description:

Objective:

Climatic warming has the potential to dramatically alter species distributions and ecosystem function across the globe. This research will examine the impact of climatic warming on ant community composition and the ecosystem functions they mediate. It will also examine shifts in foraging behavior and competitive interactions as potential drivers of changes in community composition.

Synopsis:

Global warming has the potential to alter species distributions. However, the importance of biotic interactions in driving these changes is unclear, as are the consequences of these shifts for ecosystem processes. I will experimentally increase air temperature to examine the impact of warming on ant community composition and the ecosystem functions ants mediate. I will also examine shifts in foraging behavior and competitive interactions as potential drivers of change in community composition.

Approach:

This study will use open-top chambers that will manipulate temperature at Duke Forest in North Carolina and Harvard Forest in Massachusetts. I will monitor ant species abundances and community composition within these chambers. Competitive interactions between ant species under the different temperature treatments will be examined using food baits. On these baits I will note the species that first discovers the bait, interactions between individuals of different species, and the species that ultimately dominates the bait. Additionally, 24-hour baiting experiments will be used to examine the hours per day spent foraging by each species. To examine the influence of warming on seed dispersal, I will conduct a series of seed dispersal trials whereby caches of seeds are made available to ants within the warmed chambers to determine any potential influence of climatic warming on seed dispersal rates.

Expected Results:

This research will examine the impact of experimental warming on animal communities and will yield information on shifts in species-specific abundances and community composition as a result of climatic warming. Specifically, examination of shifts in foraging behavior and competitive abilities will enhance our understanding of factors influencing changes in community composition. This is especially noteworthy as these potentially important behavioral factors are almost always ignored in models of projected shifts in species ranges resulting from climate change. Thus, in addition to enhancing our understanding of the effects of climate change on species composition, the data generated through this research will inform future predictive models by enhancing our understanding of the importance of interspecies interactions and altered behavior. Additionally, this study will examine the potential for climatic warming to have indirect effects on community composition. Specifically, it will examine the potential for climatic warming to restructure the plant community, as mediated through changes in the ant-plant seed dispersal mutualism.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection:

Ultimately, results generated through this research will help to improve predictions of the ecological impacts of climatic warming as well as increase our knowledge of the potential indirect effects of climatic warming. This will enhance our knowledge of the various impacts climatic change is likely to have on the composition and function of terrestrial ecosystems. Such knowledge is crucial in order to inform both the public and policy makers as to the impacts of global climate change and to assist with the development and prioritization of policies dealing with climate change.

Supplemental Keywords:

climate change, warming, ants, interspecies interactions, seed dispersal,

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The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

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