The natural world is filled with amazing patterns that induce curiosity. Many of these patterns are not yet explained, and plenty are yet to be discovered. The purpose of our lab's research is to figure out the causes and consequences of patterns in the biology of animals in the environment. We work mostly with ants in the tropical rainforest. Working on these questions is a lot more fun than a jigsaw puzzle, and some of them hold substantial consequences for understanding and preparing for our future. As Rob Dunn puts it better than I could, "mystery still lurks around ordinary corners."
Biodiversity, ecology and natural history of litter-nesting ants
In tropical rainforests, scores of ant species can occupy what appears to one big niche. Looking closely, I am peeling apart how this community is put together, by focusing on social behavior, nutritional ecology, symbioses, physiology, chemical ecology, and other approaches when necessary.
Arthropods, decomposition, and the cycling of carbon and nutrients
Nearly all terrestrial primary production ends up as detritus. The detrital food web - mostly the small pile of leaves on the ground - is where the action truly lies in a tropical rainforest. One of my principal goals is to document how ants mediate the ecological processes of the detrital food web, and in turn how the composition of this resource base structures ant communities. I am conducting observational and manipulative research to understand the interactions among community composition, decomposition rates, and the abiotic environment.
Nesting biology of rainforest ants
We are investigating the nesting biology of several species of ants. These ants exhibit cool idiosyncracies (If you look enough, verybody has a cool idiosyncracy.) Some species move their nests without obvious cause, others steal food from one another using spies, some plug their nests to keep out marauding army ants, and others make soldiers to fight off competitors. These traits are convenient ways to see gain insight into the diversification of life histories and the processes involved in the collective organization of social insect colonies.
Michael Branstetter (Smithsonian Institution)
Dorit Eliyahu (University of Arizona)
Shana Goffredi (Occidental College)
Michael Henshaw (Grand Valley State University)
Jennifer Jandt (Iowa State University)
Ralph Saporito (John Carroll University)