The ants go marching

Jesse Czekanski-Moir, Ph. D. student, and his team of students are busy feeding ants.  Not that the ants can’t find food on their own!  One of the questions they are considering is how ants share food resources and how the dispersion (the spread out) of food effects the number of different ants that come to eat.  There are many, many different species of ants on the island.  Some of them eat the same foods.  Jesse’s work is important because it can help conservation biologists understand community ecology. In other words, he wants to save the forest by helping all kinds of people understand how things live together!

The people in the lab make food for the ants several times each week. All of the food for the ants is the same.  On odd numbered days they carry the food up to the sites selected for the study.  They put the food out on little squares of papers for the ants and then come back later to see who is there. 

Although they put food out every other day, what changes is the number of different portions.  On some of the papers the food is all in one large portion.   On other papers it is cut into 4, 8, 16, 32, or 64 little portions. The only days they don’t put the food out is when it is raining very hard.

When the researchers go back, they look to see how many different species of ants are eating on each paper.  So far, they have noticed that the papers that have many small portions tend to attract more different kinds of ants than the one with one big portion, which often only has one large species of ant feeding on it.

What conclusions might they draw from this?  Could we conduct an experiment similar to this one in our own garden?  How many different ant species do you think are living near our school?

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