Our Ant Success Story

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Scott and Watson, Bois Jolie, Haiti [photo by: Geanina Fripp]

The summer of 2014 was Scott’s and my time in Haiti and we came here charged with the mission of conducting a baseline biodiversity survey. We were on the search for four target organisms: Ants, Beetles, Birds, and Butterflies. The presence of these organisms indicates a healthy ecosystem. We read papers and came equipped with the tools needed to make butterfly nets, beetle traps, and 30 packs of tuna as ant baits. We spent our first week in Haiti using pliers to bend wire for the butterfly nets, cutting up mosquito netting to attach to the wire, and punching holes in the traps for the beetles. Once we finished, we were all so relieved as we thought that this was the most challenging part of our study. But little did we know about the challenges that we would soon encounter…

The first big challenge was the rain. In Haiti, it rains every afternoon around 4 PM. And they are no ordinary rain events, but buckets of rain each time. Our beetle traps had to stay out for 48 hours. We created a tarp to cover the traps but without fail, each time we returned to collect them they were overflowing with water. The next challenge was the bait we were using for both the beetle and butterfly traps. And the next challenge was that animals on the farm would eat our bait. It was challenge after challenge that we had to work through, and at the end of our time here, we did not collect as much data as we had planned.

Last summer taught both Scott and I an important lesson in research: that often the first time around is a trial and error process that is used to inform more adequate methods based on the circumstances. We spent part of our spring semester this year reading more papers and contacting experts in the field about methods. And we came prepared this year.

This year we decided to focus our study primarily on ants as some ants are known to be predators of certain coffee pests while others are known to have a mutualistic relationship with coffee pests. Understanding the ants present on the farms and the interactions is critical in maintaining the health and survival of the coffee. In order to collect a diversity of ants we used different baits such as peanut butter, honey, tuna, and potted meat. To solve the problem with the rain, we purchased small solo cups with lids and punched large enough holes on the sides for the ants to go through. And we had much success! We collected in the high hundreds new ants as well as new ant species. We have perfected our routine at each farm and have gotten our study down to a record-breaking time!

Research takes time, much trial and error, and patience. In Haiti especially, it takes more of all of those. Learning these critical and unavoidable parts of research will continue shaping us as scientists.

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