ENVIRONMENT GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE: Biologist's Ant Research Provides Long-Term Look at Effects of Climate Change
David P. Dillard
ENVIRONMENT GLOBAL WARMING AND CLIMATE CHANGE:
Biologist's Ant Research Provides Long-Term Look at Effects of Climate Change
Biologist's Ant Research
Provides Long-Term Look at Effects of Climate Change
Date: December 30, 2016
Source: Bowling Green State University
Many scientists have attempted to tackle how climate change will affect the natural world by determining the thermal tolerance of various species, then predicting what will happen to them as our world warms. However, this approach as a way to understand nature has its drawbacks because one species never acts alone, so comprehending how global change impacts these interactions is crucial to a holistic understanding.
BGSU biologist Dr. Shannon Pelini
The world of forest ants may provide a macrocosm of the complex reactions and interactions among species affected by global climate change, according to a research project involving Bowling Green State University biologist Dr. Shannon Pelini.
As escalating amounts of carbon dioxide are introduced into the atmosphere, a chain reaction is induced, leading to increasingly warmer temperatures, Pelini said. This is taking place at an alarming rate, making it more important than ever that we understand how climate change will affect our natural world.
Many scientists have attempted to tackle this issue by determining the thermal tolerance of various species, then predicting what will happen to them as our world warms. However, this approach as a way to understand nature has its drawbacks because one species never acts alone. Individuals are constantly interacting with other species and the environment in which they live, so comprehending how global change impacts these interactions is crucial to a holistic understanding.
Pelini and her colleagues have made significant progress in this direction with their new study, "Climatic Warming Destabilizes Forest Ant Communities," which looks at complex interactions of ant communities and their responses to warming. The study was published in the Oct. 26 edition of the journal Science Advances.
Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Program for Ecosystem Research and the National Science Foundation, the long-term experiment looked at the interactions ants exhibit over nesting structures in two distinctly different geographical areas. As a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, and in collaboration with investigators from the University of Vermont, the University of Tennessee and North Carolina State University, Pelini designed and built large warming chambers within Harvard Forest in Massachusetts. These chambers were also replicated in Duke Forest in North Carolina to provide a comparison to the cooler Harvard Forest.
"It's one of the biggest climate change experiments in the entire world, which is a really exciting thing to be a part of," Pelini said. "We were shooting for understanding what goes on with ant communities that exist in a cooler northern latitude and how their responses compare to the same suite of species in populations that occur in the warmer lower latitude."
The researchers, led by Dr. Sarah Diamond, now an assistant professor of biology at Case Western Reserve University, placed artificial nest boxes in the warming chambers and checked them once a month for five years to measure which species of ants were utilizing them. They were interested to see if the ant species in the nest boxes would differ depending on the intensity of the warming treatment.
"We literally put heaters around the forest floor and warmed the ant communities up to see what would happen so we could more precisely ask how extinction and colonization and occupancy of these local habitats change," Pelini said.
In fact, Pelini and her colleagues found some interesting and unexpected results. In warmer chambers, there was more occupancy of heat-loving ants, which is intuitive. However, less expected was the amount of time those ants were remaining in one single nest.
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