A study looking into the effects of climate change on insects within Lamington National Park is set to go international following a funding injection of $470,000.

Dr Louise Ashton

Griffith University Centre for Planetary Health and Food Security Adjunct Research Fellow Dr Louise Ashton, who also works at the University of Hong Kong, said the Hong Kong Research Grants Council collaborative research fund will enable the 20-year research project to expand up north to the Daintree, and even across the sea to Borneo.

“We’ve been spent the past six months at Lamington which is a hotspot of biodiversity, recreating our research from 2006/07,” Dr Ashton said.

“We’ve been reassessing the elevational distribution of plants, birds, ants, moths, spiders, mites, springtails, beetles and environmental factors such as the microclimate in the forest canopy and at ground level.

“But now we get to take our research to other areas so we can establish long-term patterns in Austral-Asian tropical forest insect communities in response to global change.”

Dr Ashton and her team’s data will help fill a gap where there is a lack of long-term monitoring data of insects in tropical regions.

“We have a poor understanding of how insects are changing through their time, leading to scientific debate on how universal an ‘insect Armageddon’ really is,” she said.

“Tropical forests hold the highest terrestrial biodiversity and the keystone roles of insects in maintaining functional tropical forests, it is essential we resolve some of the large uncertainty around how insect biodiversity is changing in these globally important ecosystems.

“The rainforests of Australia and South-East Asia are biodiversity hotspots which have undergone large-scale habitat loss since European colonisation but still host high levels of endemic biodiversity.

Students on field course to Danum Valley

“We will collate and sample insect data from three field locations across Asia and Australia and use long-term climate and remote sensing data to characterise changes in landscape composition and climate in shaping insect dynamics in tropical forests.”

Over the last two years, there has been increased discussion on the decline of insects globally, and climate change is already affecting distribution shifts with some species moving to higher elevations and latitudes.

The researchers predict that key species of insects that were restricted to particular elevations (and, therefore, climates) 20 years ago will have moved upwards to avoid the increasing temperature trend.

The research team will use a number of methods to test distribution shifts in insect species including modified light traps, modified compound bow to shoot canopy lines and sample insect assemblages in the canopy, as well as deploying traps in the understory.

Automatic data loggers will be used to collect microclimate temperature and humidity data in the canopy and understory to help pin point climatic changes since the last survey.

Dr Ashton’s team from Griffith includes Professor Emeritus Roger Kitching and Professor Emeritus Nigel Stork.

13: Climate Action
UN Sustainable Development Goals 13: Climate Action

15: Life on Land
UN Sustainable Development Goals 15: Life on Land

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UN Sustainable Development Goals 17: Partnerships for the Goals