Rewilding with minibeasts for biodiversity and ecosystem function

By 03/07/2019Current Projects
HSF 19037 | Amount: $87,000 | Project Leader: H Gibb | Project Period: Jul ’19 – Jul ‘22

A project undertaken at La Trobe University, and supervised by Heloise Gibb.

The science and practice of restoration ecology has advanced rapidly in recent years, with significant progress in our ability to establish vegetation.  More recently, rewilding, the return of “keystone” fauna, has come to the fore.  It is now recognized that the success of restoration in returning not only biodiversity, but also ecosystem function, depends very much on the interplay of species.

Invertebrates, the “little things that run the world”, make up the vast majority of biodiversity, and are functionally critical for ecosystems.  They are a major food source for many vertebrates and, along with microbes, are the key players in decomposition and nutrient cycling.  Further, many smaller litter-dwelling species may be unable to disperse to isolated ‘restored’ habitat.  The result may be that revegetation results in biologically and functionally depauperate habitat islands. 

Fig. 1 Native isopods from the family Armadillidae
Fig. 2 A native millipede from the family Paradoxosomatidae

The solution to this problem might be as straightforward as moving litter from intact remnants to revegetated areas.  While passive recolonisation of revegetated habitats by invertebrates and microbes is commonly reported, no studies have investigated the effectiveness of active reintroductions of soil and litter biota from biologically rich remnant vegetation. We will test the efficacy of whole-of-community reintroductions via litter transplants in kick-starting biodiversity accumulation and litter break-down in revegetated sites.  Despite the simplicity of this idea, it has never been systematically tested in a restoration context. This work could revolutionize restoration efforts by rapidly returning biodiversity and function to the litter layer. 

Fig. 3 A plethora of Portuguese millipedes, Ommatoiulus moreletii
Fig. 4: Revegetation on farmland in the Strathbogies region, Victoria.