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Ants of New England and the Arthropods of the Harvard Forest

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I am steadily working on inventorying the ants, beetles, and spiders that occur at the Harvard Forest. This projectMobius Strip (Red Ants) has evolved from more detailed studies of changes in ant assemblages that are occurring throughout New England as hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is removed from our forests by the exotic invasive insect, the hemlock woolly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), and by preemptive salvage logging. The first summary of that work was published in 2005 (Ellison et al. 2005). It also grows from broader studies of ant (Gotelli and Ellison 2002a, 2002b, Ellison et al. 2002) and spider (Hart et al. unpublished) diversity in southern New England bogs and surrounding forests. I am currently focused on inventorying the Simes Tract, one of five forest blocks owned by the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Massachusetts, and on a set of forest plantations scheduled for harvest in 2007-2008. We are also looking at changes in ant fauna in the oak removal plots at Black Rock Forest in New York (Ellison et al. 2007).

In 2007, Nick Gotelli and I expanded this work and began a project aimed at documenting the distribution, composition, and abundance of ant species across Massachusetts. Initial sampling focuesd on 39 sites owned by the Massachusetts Audubon Society or The Trustees of Reservations, two non-profit organizations based in Massachusetts who are interested in land conservation as well as ecological research. We also sampled in old-growth forests at Wachusett Mountain, which is owned by the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation. Ecological research there is conducted jointly with the Friends of Wachusett Mountatin, who have long-term monitoring plots examining ecological changes in this important site. Additional information about the Ants of Massachusetts project can be found in our initial proposal, which was financially supported in 2007 by the Conservation Research Foundation, the Nantucket Biodiversity Initiative, the Arthur Green Fund at Harvard, and the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program. Invaluable logistic support was provided by staff scientists at Mass Audubon and The Trustees of Reservations.

This work to date has been done in collaboration with summer undergraduates. Ant alumnae/i include Alex Arguello (College of Saint Mary's, Maryland), Laura Briscoe (College of the Atlantic, Jonathan Chen (Oberlin College), Kyle Chen (Harvard), David Diaz (Harvard), Alyssa Hernandez (Cornell), Samantha Hilerio (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), Mark Johnston (Wheaton College, Illinois), Chelsea Kammerer-Burnham (Clark), Matt Lau (Humboldt State University), Kelly McBride (University of Vermont), and Grace Wu (Pomonoa College). Budding entomologists interested in working on this project are encouraged to apply to our Summer Research Program in Forest Ecology, a Research Experience for Undergraduate (REU) site supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation through grant 0452254. Photos of arthropods available here.

In late 2007, a group of four investigators led by Rob Dunn (North Carolina State University), and including Nate Sanders (University of Tennessee), Nick Gotelli (University of Vermont), and me, received a four-year grant from the Department of Energy's Program in Ecosystem Research to study the impacts of increased atmospheric temperatures on population biology and interspecific interactions of ground-dwelling ants. Click here for a detailed description of the project

We have also developed educational resources about ants in our local North Quabbin region for elementary school students and teachers. This work is done primarily by Katie Bennett, a fifth-grade science and math teacher at the J.R. Briggs Elementary School in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. This work has been supported by two Research Experience for Teachers (RET) supplement awards to our pitcher-plant and LTER grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation.