Dr. Ben Wigley has been awarded the Julie S. Denslow Prize for the Outstanding Paper in Biotropica 2020. His paper on 'Ants, fire, and bark traits affect how African savanna trees recover following damage' was published in Biotropica in 2019.
Ben was a post-doctoral fellow at the NCBS, and has been working on monitoring bark recovery from fire in the savanna for several years. The paper he worked on during his post-doctoral work, with Corli Coetsee, Laurence M. Kruger, Jayashree Ratnam, and Mahesh Sankaran, emerged during this period, with unexpected findings!
Ben shares, "Needless to say, we were initially quite surprised by the results from the fire interaction experiment, the obvious expectation being
that more intense fire would result in reduced rates of bark recovery. Instead, we found the opposite pattern, where fire removal resulted in the unexpected colonisation of the wounded areas of bark by ants, which either slowed recovery or caused further damage to the bark of colonised trees. Unexpected findings like these are what makes a career in ecology so rewarding and definitely made for a much more exciting story than the expected results would have made."
This paper is a reminder of how we often don't recognise the extent of the complexity of ecosystems around us. As Ben noted, "The findings also show how easy it is for humans to overlook the many subtle links and feedbacks present in natural ecosystems, which need to be considered before imposing widespread policies such as fire removal."
Poster by Moumita Mazumdar and Raghul MR.