Research focuses on Southeast Asian arthropod communities occurring in water-filled cavities of large bamboo culms, so called “bamboo phytotelmata”. Bamboo phytotelmata are created when insects or woodpeckers bore holes into the bamboo wall. Subsequently, the hollow interior of the bamboo culms fills with runoff rainwater and is colonized by aquatic and terrestrial insects, spiders, mites or even large animals such as bats. The scope of the investigation is to take inventory of bamboo animals, describe new species, study their life cycles and interrelationships and investigate the structure and dynamics of the animal community of bamboo phytotelmata.
Bamboo phytotelmata have been chosen as model system for ecological investigations, because they exhibit several methodological advantages due to their unique structure. Bamboo segments are small and easy to manipulate, but nevertheless species-rich, thus allowing complex interactions to be studied. Bamboo inhabitants can be easily observed by an endoscope, because they cannot hide on the flat, cylindrically shaped bamboo cavity wall. Colonization of bamboo can be started at any time by drilling holes into intact bamboo stems in order to investigate succession. Besides, bamboo is abundant and widespread allowing comparisons of faunal composition between different biogeographical regions.
Results to date have shown that phytotelmata occurring in bamboo are particularly rich in species. This is due to the fact, that in contrast to other phytotelmata the bamboo wall contributes to the nutrient supply of the animal community, that in different stages of bamboo development there are different animal communities and that a specialized terrestrial fauna is present in the secluded space above the water surface. So far, various arthropods have been investigated in detail, for example, beetles possessing aquatic larvae (Scirtidae), water striders (Veliidae) and mites (Histiostomatidae) living on the water surface, terrestrial predators preying upon mosquito larvae (e.g. jumping spiders) or ants showing special adaptations to life in bamboo phytotelms (Tetraponera). Several species-rich taxa associated with bamboo have become subjects of separate joint research projects, for example, the beetle family Staphylinidae or the fly families Tephritidae (Fruit Flies) and Stratiomyidae (Soldier Flies).