The School of Ants is an exciting citizen-scientist driven project recently launched as a module of the original school based in the US (http://www.schoolofants.org/
). The project aims to document the ants around homes, schools in urban areas in the US, and in Australia we’re expanding that to examine the diversity, distribution and diets of ants in rural and remote inhabited regions too. The US team have already found out lots about ants in these areas and rediscovered some species too! The project is also operating in Italy (http://myrmecologylab.wordpress.com/the-school-of-ants/
Ants are ubiquitous in Australia, occupying every habitat and landscape across all States and Territories (excluding Antarctica). They move around with humans all the time, and their sensitivity to disturbances of many sorts means they can be used as bioindicators of landscape health, reforestation and mine site recovery. They are important predators, pest controllers and soil engineers, but can also become pests themselves in high abundance across large tracts of land.
Detecting pest ants can help us manage a problem before it becomes unmanageable, and School of Ants can be used as a passive surveillance tool for biosecurity and protection of our environment and agriculture in Australia. The Red Imported Fire Ant, the Yellow Crazy Ant, Electric Ant and the Argentine Ant are examples of introduced ants that have become problematic in both tropical and temperate areas in Australia.
The project is as much an environmental and ecological education initiative as it is a research driven venture to increase data collection. Connecting citizens to nature, and engendering an appreciation for the tiny lost worlds beneath our feet has been one of the many upshots of this project since 2011. Kirsti Abbott undertook the collections as a volunteer Scientist in School in Melbourne, and two years later parents and students were still talking about it, and regaling tales of ant battles and nest movements in the playground.
Educational resources will be fully aligned with the Australia science curriculum, and are currently in development with a team of passionate educators in both the mainstream and environmental education arenas.
For School of Ant 2014 Objectives click here
Also, check out the School of Ants Australia website: http://schoolofants.net.au/
Atlas of Living Australia and Bowerbird help us understand species distributions of all living organisms in Australia. This post demonstrates how these citizen science programs help us track and understand invasive species distributions in Australia.
The South African Carder bee, Afranthidium Immanthidium repetitum (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae) was first recorded in Brisbane in 2000 as an invasive and exotic bee. This bee is quite distinctive from all other native Australian megachilid bees in two ways: (1) The abdomen (called a metasoma) is striped with pigmented, white, transverse colour bands – colour bands on Australian bees is due to coloured hair not pigmented tissue; and, (2) the South African Carder bee nest is made from plant fibres and resembles cotton wool and rather than leaves or resin used by other Australian megachilid bees.
In 2008, the South African Carder bee was discovered as well established in Sydney. Then in February and March 2014, the Citizen Science website BowerBird received two observations which extended this bees known distribution hundreds of kilometres north and south from where it was known. The record, with photographic evidence, came from Rockhampton (http://www.bowerbird.org.au/observations/14106) and Albury (http://www.bowerbird.org.au/observations/12928).
All identified BowerBird record are uploaded to Australia’s National Biodiversity Data aggregator ALA (Atlas of Living Australia). Here is the ALA distribution map for this species.
In early April 2014, the first images of the South African Carder bee were uploaded to BowerBird showing its behaviour of stripping and collecting plant fibers used to build its nest. (http://www.bowerbird.org.au/observations/15450). Since thenmore images of this behaviour have been posted (http://www.bowerbird.org.au/observations/15490).
The greatest problems posed by the introduction of any exotic bee is: “What will it pollinate?” Australia is now home to many exotic weed species but most of these weeds have not flourished in Australia because they did not arrive with the pollinator. As the South African Carder bee spreads to more parts of Australia, will it cause the increase in some weed species?more images of this behaviour have been posted (http://www.bowerbird.org.au/observations/15490).
Written by Ken Walker