Ants: Australia’s tiny gardeners
Ants are some of the most important animals living beneath our feet. They carry out important ‘ecosystem services’ like bioturbation, soil aeration and pollination. One of their most important services is called ‘myrmecochory’. This is when ants pick up and carry plant seeds. In doing so they disperse the seed and help it survive.
Think about how you plant a tree. You get a seed, place it underground, and keep it safe, watered, and provided with nutrients. By carrying seeds into their nests ants are essentially planting trees. Once inside a nest the seeds are safe from predators and bushfires, and placed in a moist sheltered area with high nutrients.
Australia has more species of ‘ant-dispersed’ plants than anywhere else on the planet. But where are ants the most effective ant dispersers? In the rainforest? In the arid inland? How does urbanisation effect seed dispersal? This project will answer all these questions and more!
How does it work?
To survey the behaviour of ants across Australia we are recruiting keen schools and community groups who are interested in learning more about what ants are doing in their backyards or school grounds. Participants will conduct a standardised survey or ant behaviour so that we can compare how ant behaviour varies across the country. To conduct the experiment you will place seeds outside on the ground and see how fast ants collect them over 5 days. It is best to conduct the experiment during the warmer months (October to March) as this is when most ants are active. You will check the seeds once a day for the next four days and count how many seeds are remaining. This will tell us what seeds ants prefer and how effective they are at collecting them. Once you have collected your data you will email it to email@example.com and it will contribute to a nationwide effort to understand how ants are planting Australia’s forests.
Whats in it for you?
Project participants will be provided with all materials and instructions necessary to complete their own experiment. On the ‘Materials’ page you will can download extra copies of the project materials and data sheets. Participating schools can also access to a range of educational materials and lesson plans suitable for science and environmental education classes (Coming soon!).
How to get involved
If you would like to contribute by conducting the survey described above, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We post out your kits and answer any questions you may have. Check out the materials page and FAQ documents to see if this project will suit you and your class.
How to conduct the Tiny Gardeners Project experiment