Monday, July 07, 2008

Primary vs. Secondary forest

Photo: Tiputini Biodiversity Station -- tower view

It occurs to me that I am not doing a good job of living up to my blog mission statement. More specifically, I have not been "keeping track (for my own benefit) of my daily progress in the identification of the ant fauna of Tiputini Biodiversity Station in Ecuador, the analysis of that data, and the pursuit of my PhD." To remedy that situation, I shall tell you what I am doing right now.

Right now I am working on a paper comparing ant diversity in primary vs. secondary forest. This is from a small pilot study Amy Mertl and I did in 2002. It was our first visit to Tiputini, our first field season, and our first attempt at identifying ants. We were not very good. We would sit together in the lab, one of us with a key and the other at the microscope. We had never heard of pinning so we just looked at them in alcohol. We had never heard of Bolton, so we used the key in The Ants. One of us would read through the key couplet by couplet and the other one would say things like, "I guess the first one" or "what the hell does that mean?" or "is there a third option?" or "why don't you take a look." And no one was around to tell us if we got anything right (or wrong). It's a miracle we got anything right at all. Of course, the beauty of keeping your ants in alcohol is that you can go back and re-identify them. :)

Interested in how biodiversity is affected when primary forest is cut down and then allowed to regrow? There is an interesting article in a recent issue of Science on rainforest biodiversity in recovering forests. Check it out here.


  1. Hi Kari,
    Reminds me of the time Gary Alpert and I were in Naga City, Philippines, identifying ants from our transect on Mt. Isarog. I was at the scope, examining ants in alcohol, while Gary was reading Bolton 1994 aloud. When we keyed it out to a genus not reported in the Philippines, he'd make us start over, with the same result. Then we'd reverse roles and he'd come to the same genus. Eventually, he got used to the idea of finding new genus records from our transect. And he began to watch me as I sorted morphospecies on a petri dish. He caught me a couple of times surreptitiously setting aside a juicy ant, and demanded to scope that specimen. We wound up with 8 new generic records from one 250-m transect. It was a lot of fun.

  2. That's a great story! Thanks for sharing.

  3. I remember those painful moments of just starting out with ant identification, identifying Tetramorium as Leptothorax and getting Myrmica identification using antennal scapes completely wrong (I was looking at the junction of the scape and funiculus, rather than the angle at the base of the scape). I still make a lot of mistakes, though thankfully not quite as many or as big!

  4. Not really on topic here, but I was wondering if you had yet seen this footage of a (deteriorating it looks like) death-spiral (circular milling):

    I cam across it today while looking for footage of the Australian "swimming" ant, and remembered that you ad posted about death-spirals a while back.