Ants are often regarded as pests, but they play many tremendously important ecological roles. E.O. Wilson, co-author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book, The Ants, calls ants the “little creatures who rule the world.” Why? Ants are an incredibly abundant and species-rich family of insects. They are found in virtually every terrestrial habitat, only absent from extremely cold high-altitude habitats and the ice of the North and South poles. Ecologically, ants carry out significant functions ranging from predator, in the case of the most primitive wasp-like ants, to seed dispersers, to mutualistic protectors of other insects. Their most common and most important role, however, is as decomposer, releasing nutrients for reuse in ecosystems. The simple act of tunneling, by ants creating underground nests, leads to new physical soil conditions, aerates the soil, and provides channels for water infiltration. These ant behaviors create highly positive impacts for many ecosystems. In this presentation, like the ants, we will dig down beneath the surface to learn about the evolutionary history, unique anatomy, fascinating social behavior and major ecosystem services provided by ants. We will focus on two case studies, a forest restoration project in Vermont, U.S.A., and a comparative examination of rice farms in Uttarakhand, India, to learn about how ants may be useful bioindicators of ecosystem health. As a participant, you will gain a new appreciation for the exciting world of ants, right beneath your feet.
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Online via Zoom. Zoom link will be sent via email prior to the class.
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