Ant men on Barro Colorado
July 02, 2012
Both Mike and Adam Kay, University of St. Thomas, are fascinated by what ants eat. Adam has the tools to work with Mike to understand ant communities by building a biological accounting ledger based on energy and stoichiometric theory
A noteworthy convergence of ant researchers occurred on Barro Colorado Island in June. When Don Feener, University of Utah, arrived, Mike Kaspari, University of Oklahoma, said “Thank goodness there’s another silverback on BCI.” But Feener, first there from 1984- 1987, still considers Kaspari “a young punk.” In the 80’s Feener discovered that hitchhiker ants on the leaf pieces carried by cutter ant workers shoo away phorid flies trying try to lay their eggs in the worker ant’s head.
He’s back to study flies that lay eggs in bullet ants. Injured ants release chemicals. By offering flies ant parts, Shellee Morehead and Feener discovered that the flies are most attracted to mandibular glands. “An injured ant is like a singles bar, female flies go there to lay eggs and male flies go there to find females.” A related fly lays eggs in Ectatomma ants. STRI staff scientist Bill Wcislo has the setup that will let Feener find out which chemicals from each ant species attract each fly species. “We can ask if the flies’ choice of mates or ability to find resources based on their sense of smell leads to speciation,” says Feener
Mike Kaspari first arrived on BCI 22 years ago. With the University of Oklahoma’s Jizhong Zhou and a $2.8 million grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation, he asks why warm places have more species. They hope to better predict the impacts of global climate change by studying biodiversity and ecological processes along a temperature gradient from Colorado to Panama.
Both Mike and Adam Kay, University of St. Thomas, are fascinated by what ants eat. Adam has the tools to work with Mike to understand ant communities by building a biological accounting ledger based on energy and stoichiometric theory. They will quantify traits of ant colonies like colony size, body size, metabolic rate, colony growth rate, and aggressiveness in terms of molecules with differing quantities of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements, starting with about 70 of the 400 ant species on BCI.
Steve Yanoviak, who starts a job as Tom Wallace Endowed Chair of at the University of Louisville on Aug. 1, came to BCI in the 90’s as a PhD student at the University of Oklahoma with Ola Finke, to study insect communities in tree holes. “A post doc with Mike turned my interest in canopy ants into a profession.”
Now Steve works on Gigante Peninsula in areas where all of the woody vines have been removed. He asks how forest structure affects canopy insect diversity and behavior, and also supplies the other researchers with canopy ants.
Don and Steve agree that: “Mike’s a cornerstone of a lot of things around here. He has the money. He has good ideas. He knows how to get people together to communicate with one another. He’s the king of copying people on e-mails. When he writes to us he copies his own students.”