Biodiversity Experiment – Ants!
In the Biodiversity Central Studies a number of Biology Camps were developed in order for students to engage in field science using specific apparatus and tools applicable to their chosen camp.
Students then were able to use this equipment to collect, interpret and analyse data.
My previous career as medical entomologist and taxonomist enabled me to develop the Ant-tastic Ants camp. This camp enabled students to identify keystone species which play critical roles in the maintenance of ecosystems and explain the significance of these organisms. Students became entomologists for a week and engaged in field science by investigating the diversity of ant species on the Flinders University Campus.
Students were required to investigate why ants are amazing and why they are an essential component of the Earth’s biodiversity. Ants are important because they can act as bio-indicators of ecosystem heath, predators of pests and sources of food for vertebrates and invertebrates. They are also pollinators of plants and disperse their seeds and act as decomposers which improves nutrient cycling and aeration of soil.
Students designed an experiment and used entomological equipment they had constructed to undertake sampling of ants using a variety of insect sampling methodologies. Students also had to preserve the specimens they had collected either by pinning or placing in 70% ethanol. The specimens were labelled equivalent to that of museum specimens.
Once the specimens had been preserved the students looked at the morphology of ants allowing them to identify key characteristics such as the petiole and post-petiole which would help them identify various subfamilies of ants. The students then used taxonomic dichotomous keys to identify specimens. This is very difficult as a number of ants in Australia are currently undescribed.
Identifying ants is very time consuming so I organised for Joel (Adelaide University) and Luke (www.antseverything.com.au) to assist me helping the students with their identifications. This enabled students to get help to correctly identify some of the ant specimens to species, which was very exciting. The student’s persistence in using taxonomic keys and engagement in the field and laboratory was AMAZING! and the students wished they had more time in the field and the laboratory. This experience has enabled students to authentically engage in real life field science and some students are now considering entomology as a potential career path. A similar experience could be adapted with specialist expertise at other sites in order for meaningful interdisciplinary connections to be made with existing curriculum.