Oklahoma BioBlitz 2018


Once a year, there is an annual Bioblitz that takes place in different locations, generally parks or natural areas that are protected, around Oklahoma. These have occured for the past 15 years in this state and I think really help bring together a diversity of people who love nature. Priscilla Crawford leads the organization of these large events and has this to say…

“BioBlitz! is a rapid inventory of biological diversity. Biologists and citizen scientists count as many species as possible in a given period of time, traditionally large BioBlitz! events are for 24 consecutive hours.  Anyone who is interested participate in a BioBlitz! – university professors to boy scouts to high school students to enthusiastic retirees.

Bioblitz is a fun and exciting event to educate people about the natural diversity “in their back yard.” BioBlitz offers a hands-on scientific experience and a chance to learn more about the diversity of life where people live.”

This year’s BioBlitz took place at Greenleaf State Park in Eastern Oklahoma where we actually got to observe the American Burying Beetle, a federally protected species since 1989. During our 24-hr period we collected ~20 ant species including some really neat army ants from the genus Neivamyrmex! Check out some pics from this year’s blitz and hopefully next year you will join in.

2018 BioBlitz: Greenleaf State Park




You can learn more about the Oklahoma BioBlitz here

Thanks as always for support from the Alongside Wildlife Foundation

Quantifying invertebrate responses to nutrient additions in North American grasslands

Konza LTER, Kansas

A slight delay in posts as I have been gone or busy writing up portions of my dissertation. In September, our lab finished off the last sampling on the SALT grant for the year at three locations in the midwest United States. Having never visited two of these states before, I was quite excited to see what Kansas and Nebraska had to offer. And they did not disappoint! We visited the Konza LTER and two Nature Conservancy sites in Nebraska on the Platte and Niobrara rivers. The goal was to measure how invertebrates and plants are responding to macro and micronutrient additions in long term plots that were first established earlier this year. Will be exciting to see the results as the grass and forb composition, and their respective heights, were quite different at each site. Check out some pictures below to see where we were working…



Platte River Nature Conservancy


Niobrara River Nature Conservancy


NEW PAPER OUT! The role of temperature in competition and persistence of an invaded ant assemblage


Third paper of 2018 is out in Ecological Entomology! Here we look at daily temperature changes, and how such changes regulate activity of red imported fire ants and other native species. This was a pretty fun project that arose from observations during data collection for my first dissertation chapter. Specifically, I was noticing that fire ants were not active at the hottest parts of the day, but many native species that co-occur were. We started to quantify these observations by first measuring ant activity on baits over a month long period during the summer of 2016. The figure below shows some of these results.

EE Figure

We hypothesized that fire ants likely compete with species that have similar traits such as body size and thermal tolerance as these often are correlated with diet and activity, respectively . Dormyrmex flavus was the most similar ant species, so we set up a field based competition experiment to see if fire ants competitively displaced our native D. flavus from resources near their nests. Turns out…they do!

EE Fig 2

So how does D. flavus coexist in similar environments with fire ants? We argue that dietary differences may be one way and use stable isotope analyses to show that red imported fire ants and D. flavus have different dietary niches. Combined, we believe this study is a nice example of observations leading to ecologically relevant patterns that we test the mechanism of using additional field and lab experiments.

Check out the early version of our paper by [CLICKING HERE]

NEW PAPER OUT! Using metabolic and thermal ecology to predict temperature dependent ecosystem activity: a test with prairie ants


Second paper of 2018 is out in Ecology! This one was led by Rebecca Prather, fellow graduate student in the Kaspari lab, and demonstrates how seasonal and daily temperature differences affect foraging for resources by ants. The abstract is listed below and sums up some of the key results…

“As ecosystems warm, ectotherm consumer activity should also change. Here we use principles from metabolic and thermal ecology to explore how seasonal and diel temperature change shapes a prairie ant community’s foraging rate and its demand for two fundamental resources: salt and sugar. From April through October 2016 we ran transects of vials filled with solutions of 0.5% NaCl and 1% sucrose. We first confirm a basic prediction rarely tested: the discovery rate of both food resources accelerated with soil temperature, but this increase was typically capped at midday due to extreme surface temperatures. We then tested the novel prediction that sodium demand accelerates with temperature, premised on a key thermal difference between sugar and sodium: sugar is stored in cells, while salt is pumped out of cells proportional to metabolic rate, and hence temperature. We found strong support for the resulting prediction that recruitment to NaCl baits accelerates with temperature more steeply than recruitment to 1% sucrose baits. A follow up experiment in 2017 verified that temperature dependent recruitment to sucrose concentrations of 20% (mimicking rich extrafloral nectaries), while noisy, was still only half as temperature dependent as recruitment recorded for 0.5% NaCl. These results demonstrate how ecosystem warming accelerates then curtails the work done by a community of ectotherms, and how the demand and use of fundamental nutrients can be differentially temperature dependent.”

Check out the early version of our paper by [CLICKING HERE]

Summer is here…

Black Mesa

2018 will be my last field season as a PhD student, which is a bittersweet thing to think about. This summer I will be headed back to one of my favorite places to do research, the University of Oklahoma Biological Station. Here I will be collecting more data on the traits of ants, running some behavioral trials to see what they like to eat, and spending copious amounts of time writing up my next dissertation chapter. The schedule I have made looks rather ridiculous, but now that I think about it…they always do.

This summer will also be the first where I get to mentor an undergraduate from the University of Oklahoma. Sarah, who I hope to have a blog post from in the future, will be joining our team as we try to disentangle the niches of ants. Should be fun!


The Ants of Oklahoma Project is now funded by The Alongside Wildlife Foundation

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We were recently awarded a grant from The Alongside Wildlife Foundation to support our citizen science research project: The Ants of Oklahoma!

For the past few years, Diane and I have been talking and writing about some of the cool ants we have discovered in Oklahoma. In 2017, we decided we could do more. Based off a few models of ant citizen science projects (e.g. The School of Ants: http://www.schoolofants.org/), we started collecting data using standardized methods with students from Cameron University in Lawton, Oklahoma. While one of our goals was to collect data to answer a variety of ecological questions, another goal was to just get people outside enjoying nature.

Thus far we have had 90 participants and hope that number grows in 2018. Our next set of data is scheduled to be collected in a couple of weeks and we are excited to see if our 2018 results are similar to 2017. With support from The Alongside Wildlife Foundation, we will now be able to accommodate more participants and create a travelling collection that we can share at outreach and Bioblitz events around the state. Should be fun!

Please check out The Alongside Wildlife Foundation at their website: https://alongsidewildlifefoundation.org/

Media coverage of our paper examining how floods impact invertebrate communities

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Our recent work on the 2015 flood at the University of Oklahoma Biological Station and its impact on invertebrate communities was just covered in a EurekAlert from AAAS and by the Entomology Today blog hosted by the Entomological Society of America. You can find links to both below.

EurekAlert: [CLICK HERE]

Entomology Today Blog: [CLICK HERE]


NEW PAPER OUT! Disturbance mediates homogenization of above and belowground invertebrate communities

The flood begins at the University of Oklahoma Biological Station (UOBS), Spring 2015. Aerial photograph by Jeff Thrasher.

Our manuscript about the impact of flooding on invertebrate communities at the University of Oklahoma Biological Station (UOBS) has been officially accepted at Environmental Entomology!

This project has some interesting origins. In between my written and oral comprehensive exams, I desperately wanted to be outside doing well….anything. We had heard that an area of the UOBS was scheduled to be burned so we thought it would be fun to take a weekend trip there and start surveying the invertebrates. We set out a bunch of pitfall traps, which are small containers sunk into the ground that passively capture insects, along a few transects. But we did this with an interesting twist. For half the traps, we placed them deeper underground than the other half. The goal was to see if the invertebrate communities, above and below ground respectively, would respond differently to disturbance. Then the unexpected happened…

Record levels of precipitation for south central Oklahoma raised the adjacent Lake Texoma aproximately 30 feet during late May and Early June. This caused substantial flooding throughout the region and buried our field site under water for almost a month. We had traded fire for water! Given this unique opportunity, perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity,  we thought it would be really cool to continue our sampling in the same manner and record how our communities changed. 

In doing so we found some surprising results. From 2015 to 2016 we saw a 93% decrease in abundance, a 60% decrease in species, and a 64% decrease in biomass. We also found that above and belowground invertebrate communities, which pre-flood contained different sets of species, were now more or less the same. Moreover, some species that seem to be good at colonizing disturbed habitats quickly re-entered the system and were thriving at the end of the study (e.g. crickets and spiders). My advisor Mike Kaspari sums it up nicely, “The area went from a diverse structured insect community, to a large expanse of crickets and spiders.”

These changes may have important consequences for both plants and consumers in the future. And we cannot help but wonder if the ecosystem will ever return back to what it was. Perhaps only time (and more sampling) will tell…

You can find a copy of our paper at Environmental Entomology [CLICK HERE].

New year, New goals

Make it A Good OneThis time of year is always nice to take a break, relax, think back on the past year, and plan for the future. 2017 was incredibly exciting and contained memories I will never forget. Top 5 moments…

  1. Diane and I traveled to England.
  2. Collected ants across the US from Massachusetts to California.
  3. Published my first dissertation chapter in Ecology and submitted my second.
  4. Started a number of collaborations and really enjoyed thinking about and doing science.
  5. We added a furry friend to our family.

…and many, many more.

Looking back on the year made me realize how great it really was. Plus I accomplished almost all of my goals that I secretly listed for myself last January. This time, I thought I would put up my top 5 (academic) things I wish to accomplish so here goes…

  1. Finish my PhD.
  2. Acquire a postdoctoral position starting in 2019.
  3. Submit my 3rd dissertation chapter on arthropod body sizes.
  4. Learn how to incorporate phylogeny into assemblage/community analyses.
  5. Get involved with one professional society besides just being a member.

There are numerous other goals I could list (publishing side projects, attending conferences, running pilot studies, etc.), however these are the big ones that have been resonating in my head. That being said, with a number of papers in review, hopefully we will have some exciting news in the near future. Oh and…

Happy New Year!


NEON ANTS Fieldwork Finale


Fieldwork for NEON ants is now complete. From Oregon to Southern California across to Florida and then up to Massachusetts—35 sites were resampled in deserts, grasslands, and forests. There is a hell of a lot of data from this project and I am very grateful that I was able to partake in part of it.

It is funny. I pulled out my application letter to the University of Oklahoma upon arriving home just last week. And in it, I wrote about wanting to understand where species lives, and why they lived there (a pretty common question among biologists). After a couple of years in grad school, I feel that I have finally been able to start to answer those questions. Is it functional trait differences? Perhaps spatial distributions are phylogenetically conserved? Is it bottom-up driven? Or perhaps top-down controlled? The next goal will be to answer some of these questions as I set out to identify all the specimens from this year…..Then the fun part. Analyzing and writing galore in what I hope will result in a number of interesting and exciting publications that provide insight into how ant assemblages have changed over the last 20 years.

Locally, I will be working with Diane more on our citizen science project as we undertake round 2 in Lawton, Oklahoma. In addition to submitting my next dissertation chapter this semester (more about this later but it covers species interactions between red imported fire ants and native ant species), I hope to also add to the Ants of Oklahoma page by compiling all of the literature sources that I can find on Ant distributions throughout the state. This work has already been in progress for a while but should be complete in the next month or so. Check back soon for more information.