Plants, Ants , And Fungi – Award Winning Three Way Partners

Plants, Ants , And Fungi – Award Winning Three Way Partners

Research examining the fascinating partnership between plants, ants and fungi has won a major fundamental research award. 

Melinda Greenfield , a PhD candidate at James Cook University in Townsville, has received the 2015 ESA/Wiley Fundamental Ecology Award for her work investigating the interactions between ants and fungi in the Australian ant-plant. 

Melinda explains “Ant-plants are native to North Queensland and provide ants with nesting space in a network of tunnels and chambers inside the plant. They then benefit from the symbiotic ants defending the plant against herbivores, pathogens and encroaching vegetation.” 

“We know species of fungi are also growing inside the chambers and seem to be a part of the relationship but the role they play remains a mystery.” 

“My research will explore the interactions between the fungi, ants and the ant-plant to establish if a three-way mutualism exists and the possibility that the ants are farming the fungi.” 

Professor Angela Moles, ESA Vice-President Student Affairs, says “Research on fundamental ecological processes like mutualism is critically important in identifying underlying systems and processes that often lead to new discoveries in seemingly unrelated fields - such as medical treatments or industrial and agricultural applications.” 

The ESA/Wiley Fundamental Ecology Award is a postgraduate student research award encouraging the study of fundamental ecological processes without the need for an identified applied application.  Past winners have investigated predator-prey relationships, adaptation to environmental change, and the ecological role of colour.

Melinda will receive a research grant of $5000 and will present her research at the annual conference of the Ecological Society of Australia in Fremantle, Western Australia. 


Melinda Greenfield, PhD candidate, JCU
M:  0435 827 753  E: 

Professor Angela Moles, ESA VP – Student Affairs
M: 0448 080 128 E:

ESA Website

 Images attached:
2015 ESA/Wiley Fundamental Ecology Award winner Melinda Greenfield
Ant-plant showing light and dark chambers


ESA is the peak professional scientific organisation for ecologists in Australia, with 1500 members from all states and territories. ESA has a 50 year history of supporting ecologists, ecological research and promoting ecological knowledge.