Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 27, Issue 10, pp 2625–2640 | Cite as

Temporal variation in abundance of leaf litter beetles and ants in an Australian lowland tropical rainforest is driven by climate and litter fall

  • Peter S. Grimbacher
  • Will Edwards
  • Michael J. Liddell
  • Paul N. Nelson
  • Cassandra Nichols
  • Carl W. Wardhaugh
  • Nigel E. StorkEmail author
Original Paper
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Forest and plantation biodiversity


Determining if the seasonality of leaf litter invertebrate populations in tropical rainforests is driven by climate or availability of litter, or both, is important to more accurately predict the vulnerability of litter invertebrates to climate change. Here we used two approaches to disentangle these effects. First, the influence of climatic seasonality was quantified by sampling a fixed volume of litter monthly over 4 years and counting extracted beetles and ants. Second, litter volume was experimentally manipulated (addition and exclusion) to test the influence of litter quantity independently of climatic variation. There were significant seasonal peaks for both beetle and ant abundance and these were positively correlated with rainfall, temperature and litter volume. As abundance was measured on a ‘per litter volume’ basis we conclude that there was a significant effect of climate on abundance. The litter manipulation experiment showed that beetle and ant abundance per litter volume were also influenced by litter volume, when it was low. We recognise that other factors such as litter structure or complexity may have affected temporal ant abundance. Beetle and ant abundance were depressed in litter exclusion plots but did not differ significantly between control and addition plots, suggesting a possible ceiling in the effect of litter volume on population sizes. We conclude that seasonality in climate and litter quantity are driving most temporal variation in insect abundance and that there may be some resilience among leaf litter insects to cope with higher temperatures. However, future responses by plants to increased climatic variability and higher CO2 concentrations may alter litter fall dynamics and thus temporal patterns in litter insect abundances.


Leaf litter Seasonality Temporal variation Beetles Ants Tropical forest Climate change Litter manipulation Nutrient concentrations 



We thank the Daintree Rainforest Observatory for access to the centres facilities and Marcin Skladaniec for laboratory work tallying ants. During the duration of the fieldwork and subsequent write up, PSG was funded by several organisations including the Rainforest Cooperative Research Centre, the Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility, Melbourne University and the Cooperative Research Centre for Forestry. This project was funded as part of the Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility. ML activities in the Daintree are supported by the Australian SuperSite Network, part of the Australian Government’s Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network (

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 84 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Resource Management and GeographyUniversity of MelbourneRichmondAustralia
  2. 2.Centre for Tropical Environmental Sustainability Science, College of Science and EngineeringJames Cook UniversitySmithfieldAustralia
  3. 3.Earthwatch Institute (Australia)MelbourneAustralia
  4. 4.Scion, New Zealand Forest Research InstituteRotoruaNew Zealand
  5. 5.School of Environment and Science, Environmental Futures Research InstituteGriffith UniversityBrisbaneAustralia

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