School of Ants – Kirsti Abbott and Sarah Hill
Throughout the year, School of Ants has been engaging with citizens scientists across Australian to conduct a year long ecological project collecting data on the diet of dominant ground foraging ants in backyards, school grounds and adjacent bushland plots. As discussed in a previous lab update (July 2015) this synchronous collection has also coincided with full day educational visits each month in participating schools by Kirsti as part of the School of Ants on Tour program. Kirsti has visited schools in Lockhart, Brewarrina, Gympie, Longreach, Cairns, Alice Springs and Kununurra. To date we have identified over 1400 individuals which include 28 different species from over 25 locations around Australia. We have identified three invasive ant species: Trichomyrmex destructor at Longreach, Paratrechina longicornis in Cairns and Pheidole megacephala from numerous sites – Cairns, Bucasia, Longreach and Brewarrina.
But like all good things, we are coming to the end of our tour around the country. Two more collections, and schools left to visit until the data is in and more than 600 citizens around Australia will have engaged directly with collections, education days or ant festivals. We have 50 registered participants in this year’s attempt at collecting data synchronously each month, and excited to look at the patterns in the number and types of dominant ground foraging ants coming to food baits in high use school and backyards. Lots of great research projects will come out of this year, so if you’re interested in being part of the School of Ants team, keep your eyes on our website or sign up for emails. As part of our vision to see citizen science part of every day schooling around the country, we are developing a toolkit for teachers to start using in their classrooms in 2016. We are holding a teacher workshop at the University of Melbourne 5th December that will highlight for participants the strong links between science communication, research and education and give them resources to help embed citizen science into classrooms, whether formal or not. School of Ants’ new webpage is also due to be up and running in December. We’d love you to do a collection; help us uncover the diversity, distribution and diet of ants in your backyard.