Healthy ants, healthy country

Ants have the answers when it comes to assessing the effects of land management on the environment.

Up to 20 million ants from 100 species live in any single hectare of the Australian bush, says CSIRO ecologist, Dr Ben Hoffmann.

“Ants play vital roles in the health of the environment and are a handy ‘window’ into ecosystems. If the ants are in good shape then this indicates that the environment is likewise in good shape”, he says.

Dr Hoffmann recently completed his PhD with Northern Territory University. He says ants are increasingly being used as biological indicators of environmental health.

“The mix of ant species at any site reflects how badly the ecosystem has suffered from disturbance, and can tell us how well it is proceeding on the road to recovery”, he says.

His project, part of the Tropical Savannas CRC’s work on ecosystem health, looked at the effects on ants of a range of land management practices involving grazing, fire and mining throughout inland Australia.

He found that ant communities respond to disturbance in consistent ways, further enhancing their use as bioindicators.

Dr Hoffmann is one of 16 Fresh Scientists selected competitively across Australia for presentation to the public and the media at ScienceNOW! in Melbourne. He will be presenting his work today (Saturday) at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre.

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