A Project For The Lazy Myrmecologist

Here’s a big, useful question: How does human activity affect ant populations across landscapes?

One could design any number of studies to answer this question, most involving lots of trudging about in the mud, or through swarms of mosquitoes, or laboring outside cell tower coverage (gasp!). Or, one could just sit back in one’s ergonomic office chair and harvest ant data from Google Earth.


This satellite photograph shows land in the Paraguayan chaco under various amounts of disturbance. It also shows nests of the chaco leafcutter ant, Atta vollenweideri, erupting in white spots across the heavily disturbed land like pimples before a prom.

Several decades ago, J.C.M. Jonkman used aerial photographs from the same region to conclude that leafcutter nests accelerate succession from pasture back to forest. But there is a lot more that could be done, relatively easily, from Google’s massive archive. It’d make a tidy side project for the lazy myrmecologist.


3 thoughts on “A Project For The Lazy Myrmecologist”

  1. When I was still with the University of Arkansas at Monticello, we used an aerial survey to map the nests of Pogonomyrmex comanche at the Arkansas Oak Natural Area. I wish I could be a lazy myrmecologist in the Philippines. Not really. 🙂

  2. That is cool. Of course the forest that comes back will not be like the forest that was there. Now I wonder if the leafcutter ants in some way influence which species of tree are re-established. Engineers of the rain forests, indeed!

  3. Alex – the springer paper link needs editing.

    Mark, if you drill down into the free portion of the linked paper, it does provide some details about Atta vollenweideri abandoned-nest-plant-succession.

    There are some ancillary studies that would help put meat on the bones of such papers:
    – plasticity of total foraging area of Atta vollenweideri & principle factors in the variation eg population size, species harvested, etc.
    – average life-cycle longevity of Atta vollenweideri nests
    – range of plant species harvested by Atta vollenweideri
    – species harvested vs nest longevity
    and so on…

    There is so much to learn …

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