The impact of management in tropical agricultural landscapes on ant communities and their associated ecosystem functions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Cambridge
Department Name: Zoology


The expansion of oil palm agriculture is driving major land use change in the tropics posing a major threat to biodiversity in the region; but within plantations a wide range of taxa are still found, which can be important for maintaining essential ecosystem services. Ants are considered to be one of the most influential taxonomic groups within tropical ecosystems, playing key roles in predation, decomposition and seed dispersal. However, little work has yet been done to quantify the influence that within-plantation management practices have on ant populations and how this might impact wider ecosystem functioning and oil palm yield.

My project investigates the impacts of two separate oil palm agroecosystem management strategies, with data collection being split between smallholdings in Peninsular Malaysia and an industrial plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. At both sites I am assessing the effect of habitat management on within-plantation community composition of ants. I am also exploring whether an increased diversity and abundance of ants is associated with higher levels of ecosystem functionality and crop yield, and whether it is associated with diversity of other fauna.

My findings will have direct practical implications for the oil palm industry, helping to inform future agroecosystem management strategy. Specifically, if enriched ant communities are found to benefit important ecosystem processes such as predation and herbivory, this will allow growers to adopt tailored management practices that could buffer negative ecological impacts, as well as improve palm oil yields. My research project will also contribute to the further understanding of tropical ant ecology, and the global development of sustainable agriculture.


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