On our own, we see only a small part of the world, but collectively, at any moment, humans see much of the world. Our global collaboration takes advantage of this reality to combine the hands and research of biologists from around the world to understand the distribution and consequences of ants.
We are studying no fewer than four aspects of ants around the world through this collaboration. To date, our focus has been on the diversity of ants, the number of kinds of these creatures that one finds in any plot on Earth. This work has yielded the papers below and is ongoing. To become involved, contact Rob Dunn (Rob_Dunn@ncsu.edu).
In one new project, we are extending this work on diversity to also consider specific kinds of ants and also the abundance of ants and how they both vary from place to place and why. If you would like to collaborate on this project, please send Heloise Gibb and/or Kate Parr an email. If we put as a requirement for this collaboration that each individual contributes data for at least four or five sites (the more the better!) and if fifty people collaborate, we would easily pull together data for several hundred sites relatively rapidly. You can either contribute data from your own sites or data from other studies of which you are aware. Data from climatically marginal (very hot, very wet, very dry, or very cold) regions are particularly valuable. Our hope is that some or even all of those involved with contribute quite a few data sets. The payback for such contributions are multfold, but include coauthorship and the ability to use the compiled datasets, whether in the contexts of papers or to leverage understanding for your existing projects or grants.
Another new project actually seeks to begin a global experiment. Everyone agrees that even as we compile data from the many existing and new studies of ants that key difficulties are linking those data to processes and standardizing data among studies. We have tended to ignore the former and deal with the latter statistically. However, another approach is to actually conduct the same sampling many places around the world. In order to achieve this, we are ready to send a standardized set of baits to you if you are willing to spare several hours to set out these baits (50 ml centrifuge tubes partially filled with amino acids, sugar, salt,or one of several other liquid resources). These baits will produce a local measure of ant composition and also rate of discovery of various types of food resources and potentially the relative limitation of different resources to ants. In order to particpate in this experiment (whether you are a scientist or not).all you need to do is to send your mailing address and contact information to Nate Sanders (Nsanders@utk.edu).
A final new project that is being developed is a project aimed at using a version of the protocol from the global experiment to get students in schools around the world (but particularly in urban areas and those places very poorly known for ants) to sample ants in their schoolyards or really wherever they are willing. In the short term, we will be drawing up a two day lesson plan (with powerpoint slides and utube videos) that teachers can use to get their students outside to document their local ants and what they do. This project will emerge in stages as we refine protocols, but if you know any teachers anywhere in the world who might be interested in being involved in this project, we would be thrilled to get them involved in the project. Have those teachers contact me (Rob_Dunn@ncsu.edu), ideally with "SCHOOL OF ANTS" in the title.
There was a time when people all around the world knew the ants in their backyard, our hope is that we can learn them again and pool that knowledge so that we might, for the very first time, clearly see how they vary and begin to understand why.