As an ecologist, I have a broad interest in how organisms interact with each other and their environment, and how humans have impacted the interactions of these organisms. During my Ph.D. work, I examined how the Allegheny Mound ant, Formica exsectoides, influenced the populations of various other insect species in jack pine forests. I've returned to working with mound-builiding ants, this time examining how fragmentation of prairie habitat influences their disperal.
New avenues for addressing ecological questions have opened up with the advent of molecular techniques. One such ecological question has to do with dispersal of organisms and mating. The mound ants Formica obscuriventris and F. ulkei both have clumped distributions with areas containing high densities of mounds separated by large distances to other areas with high densities of mounds. Literature suggests that F. obscuriventris primarily forms new colonies via colony budding, while F. ulkei forms new colonies via foundress queens. By using molecular techniques, I and my student researchers hope to address a number of questions both within a species’ population and between species. Some questions include:
Molecular techniques now allow us to begin addressing these and other questions by analyzing the genes of these ants to determine how closely related they are, how a particular gene disperses through a population, etc. In addition, GIS will allow us to visualize the distribution the dispersal of both colonies and genes within those colonies, perhaps elucidating patterns associated with vegetation and soil types.
This summer we will use GPS and GIS to map additional mounds as well as continue molecular studies on these populations.
Last modified 1 June 2010