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:, 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:

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.

NEON Ants 2017: Site 9 and 10 – Organ Pipe National Monument and Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch, Arizona

image 1The final leg of the NEON ants 2017 project—an NSF funded project— has come and gone. We visited two beautiful locations: Organ Pipe National Monument and Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch. Both of these sites were in Arizona, a state that harbors some of the greatest ant diversity in North America.

Now that the fieldwork is done, the lab work begins. We will start identifying and analyzing the stable isotopes and elemental chemistry of our collected specimens. All of this to answer some of the most important questions in ecology: why are species where they are and what are they doing. Should be a fun semester of identifying ants that should lead to some really interesting results as we try and quantify changes in the ant assemblages from 20 years prior.

Organ Pipe National Monument




Appleton-Whittell Research Ranch




That is all for now! Check back in a little while for more updates for ongoing research and publication submissions.

NEON Ants 2017: Site 8 – Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center, California

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEvery once in a while you get the feeling of being in a magical place. A place few have been before, and one that few will probably visit in the future. While the Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center is visited by students of the University of California system for field trips and field work, in my mind, it is one of those magical places. We have only been here two days and it is frankly—Amazing. Temperatures are high and humidity is low but the views are sweet and the field station, having been redone in the mid 1990’s, is really quite nice. I hope to come back one day to do more ant research, or any research for that matter. And if you get the chance to come out here, do it.

More pictures:




NEON Ants 2017: Site 7 – El Centro, California


The NEON ants crew is back at it after a short hiatus for the Ecological Society of America Annual meeting. This time we are headed to the lovely south western United States. Our first stop is right on the border of Southern California and Mexico around the town of El Centro.

A funny story. Having worked a while in Oklahoma, I thought I was used to high temperatures. What I am not used to is 110°F and almost 0% RH. It is insanely hot. And Dry. Yet there are still a number of ant species (from the genera Pogonomyrmex, Dorymyrmex, Forelius, and Myrmecocystys) risking the temperature to forage. Should be fun to see all the neat ant species doing their thing in this rough environment.