Harvard Forest >

Summer Research Project 2018

  • Title: Group Project (Megaplot): Does a foundation species control biodiversity of ants?
  • Summer Supervisors: Aaron Ellison
  • Researchers: Aaron Ellison; Sydne Record
  • Project Description:

    Foundation species in forests are hypothesized to control the diversity of associated organisms and modulate core ecosystem processes. At Harvard Forest, eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) is a foundation species, but its relationship to local biodiversity has not been explored in detail. The goal of this project is to look at co-occurrence relationships between forest trees and ants, and to use new statistical methods to explore fine-scale spatial covariation in this relationship. This project will be done within the 35-hectare Forest Dynamics Plot in the Prospect Hill tract at Harvard Forest ("megaplot"), and in which > 100,000 woody stems have been identified, mapped, and measured. Additional sampling will be done within the Hemlock Removal Experiment at the Simes tract at Harvard Forest (HF-HeRE).

    Students working on this project will sample ants around numerous individuals of several different species of trees in the megaplot, and in predefined sampling grids at HF-HeRE. Students will learn ant identification and field-sampling methods; will sample ants in litter samples and with active searching (hand sampling); and will learn and use spatial statistics, including codispersion analysis, to quantify relationships between forest trees and associated biodiversity. Data will be analyzed using the R statistical software package, and will present their research findings in the end-of-summer research symposium. There will be opportunities for the student to develop an independent project that can be extended into a year-long independent project or senior thesis work. On average, the student can expect to spend about 75% of the time doing field work, and 25% of the time doing lab work and data analysis. Lab work will involve using dissecting microscopes to identify ants and working with hazardous chemicals (95% ethanol); mandatory training in handling hazardous chemicals will be provided.

    The students selected for this project will be mentored by Aaron Ellison.

    Desired Skills: The students working on this project must:
    1. Be willing to participate actively in field activities;
    2. Be able to hike with 45-lb backpack in forested terrain;
    3. Be willing to clean, set, and collect pitfall traps;
    4. Be willing to handle live ants and sort dead ants preserved in alcohol;
    5. Spend many hours identifying ants under a microscope;
    6. Be able to wear hard hats while working in the field;
    7. Be able to spend many hours in the lab analyzing data;
    8. Have, or be willing to develop, a basic understanding of Excel and R for graphical and statistical analysis.

  • Readings:

    Buckley, H. L., B. S. Case, and A. M. Ellison. 2016. Using codispersion analysis to characterize spatial patterns in species co-occurrences. Ecology 97: 32-39.

    Record, S., T. McCabe, B. Baiser, and A. M. Ellison. 2016. Are foundation species different than those of dominant species: a case study of ant assemblages in northeastern North American forests. bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/062265.

    Sackett, T. E., S. Record, S. Bewick, B. Baiser, N. J. Sanders, and A. M. Ellison. 2011. Response of macroarthropod assemblages to the loss of hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), a foundation species. Ecosphere 2: art74.

    Ellison, A. M., S. Record, A. Arguello, and N. J. Gotelli. 2007. Rapid inventory of the ant assemblage in a temperate hardwood forest: species composition and sampling methods. Environmental Entomology 36: 766-775.

    Ellison, A. M., et al. 2005. Loss of foundation species: consequences for the structure and dynamics of forested ecosystems. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 9: 479-486.

  • Research Category: Large Experiments and Permanent Plot Studies, Group Projects, Ecological Informatics and Modelling, Biodiversity Studies