Have you ever wondered how many different types of animals are right outside your door? Since the Oklahoma Biodiversity Forum in 2015, Dr. Diane Roeder and I have been brainstorming ideas for projects where we could highlight the wonderful biodiversity of our world to the next generation. As there has been a recent upsurge of interest in life around the home and especially in cities, we figured now would be a great time to try and implement a citizen science based project that targeted a commonly ignored, but incredibly diverse, taxon of animals in Lawton, Oklahoma. That taxon is of course, Ants!
The original idea was based on a lovely project developed at N.C. State and led by Dr. Andrea Lucky and Dr. Rob Dunn called the School of Ants (http://www.schoolofants.org/). Using household items and a basic protocol, anyone can contribute by collecting specimens in “paved” and “green” spaces, recording data, and then shipping those specimens to a processing center. At the center, ants are identified to species and locations are updated on a digital map so that contributors can see what species they collected and view collections from other participants.
As we are currently planning on testing this with college students, we slightly modified the School of Ants template by increasing the amount of data collection, increasing the sample size per collection site, and adding a thermal component in the form of a thermometer for students to record both ground and air temperature at their home locations. The goal is the same, to document ant diversity, but with a hope of increasing our power to map out the distribution of invasive species and perhaps identify when certain species are active. Additionally, and in accordance with one goal of the Ants of Oklahoma project, we hope to photograph each species and provide high quality images for anyone interested in seeing these really fascinating animals. Finally, all specimens will be stored in the Cameron University Invertebrate Collection so that future generations may be able to resurvey areas in Lawton to monitor for changes in biodiversity.
Forty-one brave participants have volunteered as a test bed for our first attempt and we are incredibly excited about what their yards may secretly hold. If you are interested in getting involved with the Ants of Oklahoma project, please contact Dr. Diane Roeder (firstname.lastname@example.org) or myself (email@example.com) and check back for future updates as we hope to ramp up our collecting in Fall 2017 and Spring 2018.