Research Projects

Thermal biology of ants: Ants have a remarkable capacity of adapting to the environment, including social approaches involving cooperation and the division of labor. In several avenues, we are working to understand how ants have the capacity for resilience to thermal challenges. In one line of investigation, we are studying how colonies selectively demonstrate the ability to withstand high temperatures, based on their social role in the colony, time of day, time of year, and short-term environmental challenges. We also are studying the optical and thermal properties of ant exoskeletons that facilitate emissivity of heat in non-visible wavelengths. In a different project, we are building an understanding of ambient thermal conditions within leaf litter and how this affect the assembly of ant communities.

Urban insect biodiversity: Cities are filled with biodiversity and we have much to learn about how and why species are able to persist in highly urbanized in environments. Our lab operates the ongoing Harvester Hunt project to understand what characteristics of the city support native harvester ants (Pogonomyrmex spp., pictured above) are thought the Los Angeles metropolitan area. This is a community science project that is build on participation of everybody in the city who loves nature and wants to photograph ants to upload them to the Harvester Hunt project iNaturalist! This project is being conducted in collaboration with the Urban Nature Research Center of the Natural History Museum of LA County. We are also working with the museum to study the ecology of urban insects as community science BioSCAN collaboration.

Rainforest ant community ecology: The lab has a long history of conducting research on the community of tiny litter-nesting ants in a Costa Rican tropical rainforest. This community has hundreds of species that coexist with one another, and provide an excellent model for asking perennial and new questions in ecology.

Experimental natural history of ants: How do strobe ants manage to strobe? Why do thieving ants steal from one another? How can bullet ants live on nectar? Why do some ants keep empty nests? There are so many unanswered questions in nature and sometimes we do research projects to figure them out.