Four stories of animal behaviour, adaptation and biodiversity

September 28th, 2023

Recent research from Australian Journal of Zoology, International Journal of Wildland Fire, Pacific Conservation Biology and Invertebrate Systematics.

A collage of the four photos from this blog: a bee, a quokka, some ants and a squat lobster.


The animal kingdom is full of surprises.

From the little-explored depths of the ocean, to the buzzing around the flowers in our own backyards, researchers are every day documenting new and curious things about the wildlife we share this planet with.

Here are four intriguing examples of animal behaviour, adaptation and incredible biodiversity, which were published in our journals Australian Journal of Zoology, International Journal of Wildland Fire, Pacific Conservation Biology and Invertebrate Systematics.


Bees buzzing for native blooms

Research has shown that more native Australian flowering plants in urban areas could help boost declining bee numbers, being the preferred source of food for both native bees and the introduced European honeybee.

“With wild bees facing a global decline, largely due to habitat loss through urbanisation, it is vital to understand their preferences,” said Dr Kit Prendergast from Curtin School of Molecular and Life Sciences in a statement about this research. “Although urban areas often have a diversity of flowers compared to natural habitats, many of these flowers are exotic species.”

“The research shows how important native flowers are in supporting native bee and even honeybee populations in urban areas. It also highlights the need for sustainable management of honeybee numbers, as high honeybee populations can deprive native bees of their preferred resources.”

The research article, published in Pacific Conservation Biology, includes a “top ten” list of species to plant, including types of Jacksonia, Melaleuca and Grevillea, providing guidance to homeowners, landscapers, landcare communities and councils.

A close-up of a bee enjoying the nectar of a white marri flower.

Native bees, like this Blue Banded Bee, prefer plants that are endemic to Australia, such as Corymbia calophylla, commonly known as marri. Photo: Jean and Fred Hort, Flickr.


Ants play possum in nest box

While checking pygmy possum and bat nest boxes on Kangaroo Island, researchers found what they initially took to be a colony of dead southern broad-nosed spiny ants, Polyrhachis femorata. But then, one of the ants moved.

“The mimicry was perfect,” said Associate Professor S. ‘Topa’ Petit in a media release by University of South Australia. “When we opened the box, we saw all these dead ants…and then one moved slightly. This sort of defensive immobility is known among only a few ant species, but we don’t know of other instances when it’s been observed for entire colonies.”

The researchers believe the ants were ‘playing dead’ as a defensive strategy to avoid potential danger. This is the first time that a whole colony of ants was recorded feigning death, and also the first time this species has been found in South Australia.

“It is very exciting that such an endearing species as Polyrhachis femorata is living on Kangaroo Island and we look forward to finding out more about its ecology.”

The findings were published in an Open Access research article in Australian Journal of Zoology.

Four ants lying on plywood.

“If we keep very, very still, perhaps they will go away…” Photo: S. ‘Topa’ Petit.


Quokkas show adaptability after prescribed burns

A study by researchers at Murdoch University’s Harry Butler Institute, working with the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, has shed light on the adaptive behaviour of quokkas following periods of prescribed burns.

“The study aimed to determine how individual quokkas changed their home ranges following burns,” said lead researcher Leticia Povh in a statement.

“The key results revealed a remarkable shift in the behaviour of six quokkas that had previously resided in areas subjected to prescribed burns. These individuals moved into fire exclusion zones, actively avoiding the burn areas for an average of three months.”

The findings emphasise the importance of appropriately sized and located fire exclusion areas in conservation management.

“In a world of rising temperatures and decreasing rainfall across southwest Western Australia, this study has important conservation significance in determining how we manage habitat for our mainland quokkas into the future.”

An Open Access research article about this study was published in International Journal of Wildland Fire.

A quokka looks inquisitively towards the camera.

Quokkas will temporarily move to avoid prescribed burns. Photo: Natalie Su, Unsplash.


Fluffy-looking lobsters catalogued as part of study of deep-sea biodiversity

The deep sea represents more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface, but we only know about 10 percent, or perhaps even less, of the animals that live there. It’s the most unexplored habitat in the world.

“We still do not know how many species live in our world, especially marine invertebrates living in the deep sea,” Paula Rodríguez-Flores, biodiversity postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, told the Harvard Gazette.

Rodríguez-Flores and colleagues have been combining molecular data and microCT to catalogue deep-sea species so we can better understand their diversity. In an Open Access research article published in Invertebrate Systematics, they identified five new deep-sea squat lobsters, that live about 2,000 to 5,000 meters below the ocean’s surface.

“The problem with this species is that the ocean is very poorly sampled, so we need to continue to explore the deep ocean collecting more specimens to have a complete picture of the distribution range and evolution of animals in the abyss before they disappear.”

A number of fluffy-looking orange lobsters squat among rocks on the ocean floor.

One of the squat lobsters that was catalogued, Munidopsis girguisi, looks fluffy due to its fuzzy coating of microbes. Photo: Schmidt Ocean Institute.


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