Tag Archives: ants

The Spatial Ecology of the Comanche Harvester Ant

I have successfully presented my dissertation work and am currently finishing up the revisions for the final submission to the University of Texas at Arlington for the PhD degree. I expect the final dissertation to be available from the university library by July 2015.

The title of the dissertation is: The Spatial Ecology of the Comanche Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex comanche (Hymenoptera, Formicidae)

Dr. Esther Betran was the chair of my committee (UTA).

Other committee members were:

Dr. Jonathan Campbell (UTA)

Dr. Paul Chippindale (UTA)

Dr. Sophia Passy (UTA)

and Dr. Walter Tschinkel (FSU)

Here is the slide presentation and the notes which are numbered to correspond to the slides. I have included some of the corrections that came out of the discussion with my committee and otherwise have noted where there are other problems which I am addressing in the revision.

The slides:

and the notes:

Prairies in a Changing World: State of the Prairie Conference 2014

Conferene poster

The Native Prairies Association of Texas (and the Coastal Prairie Partnership) had their annual meeting in Fort Worth at the Fort Worth Botanical Garden from May 29 – May 31, 2014.  I was invited to present my research on ants in the prairies of the Fort Worth Nature Center in Fort Worth and the Southwest Nature Preserve in Arlington, Texas.

I also attended most of the meeting and gained a lot from the presentations I attended and especially from hobnobbing with other attendees.

**I want to pass on that Native American Seed is producing a seed mix especially to attract native bees which will be available this fall. Here’s the link to this Seed Source.

Here is the agenda for May 30 and May 31, following which I post my notes on the few talks I was able to attend with some comments and finally my presentation and extensive notes on the slides.

May 30 Agenda

State of the Prairie Agenda for May 30

May 31 Agenda

State of the Prairie Agenda for May 31

My Notes and Comments

State of the Prairie Conference Notes

Demonstration Prairie 5

The Demonstration Prairie at the Fort Worth Nature Center (photo above)

I presented my research on the ant species I have found in 17 sites at the Fort Worth Nature Center and what this means for 1) the possibility of using ants as bioindicators and 2) for the ecology of the Cross Timbers Ecoregion.

“Jills of All Trades: Ant Diversity and Flexibility in the Cross Timbers Ecoregion”

Here are my notes. In these notes I include quite a bit more than I was able to cover, in part, so that if you did not attend, you can follow the slides. If you have questions, message me.

Jills of all Trades_Presentation Notes

And finally, I mention a 10 minute digital recording I made of the Comanche harvester ant “remodeling” a ground bee nest that was too close to the ant nest. Here is a the video:

Ant Presence and Abundance in the Fort Worth Nature Center

I sampled ants using pitfall traps in 17 sites in the Fort Worth Nature Center monthly in June, July, and August 2012.

I used CANOCO to run redundancy analyses (RDA) on ant presence with abiotic and biotic environmental variables and on ant presence and abundance with soil type to look for ant preference for soil. I used forward selection of variables and Monte Carlo significance tests to select the variables for the final RDA models.


1) RDA for ant presence and environmental variables

RDA Summary Table






Total variance







Species-environment correlations





Cumulative percentage variance of species data





Cumulative percentage variance of species-environment relation 





Sum of all eigenvalues     


Sum of all canonical eigenvalues     



2) RDA for ant presence and soil type

RDA Summary Table

Axes                                    1      2      3      4 Total variance






Species-environment correlations 





Cumulative percentage variance    of species data





Cumulative percentage variance    of species-environment relation 65.2   84.9   93.8 100.0
Sum of all eigenvalues


Sum of all canonical eigenvalues



3) RDA for ant abundance and soil type

RDA Summary Table

Axes                                    1      2      3      4 Total variance






Species-environment correlations 





Cumulative percentage variance    of species data





Cumulative percentage variance    of species-environment relation





Sum of all eigenvalues


Sum of all canonical eigenvalues



24% of species presence is explained by the environmental variables with percent litter cover and drainage being the significant variables. Sampling sites by date clumped together indicating a lack of seasonality — which seems a bit unusual since late July and August become quite hot and ant activity seems reduced  at this time.

12% of species presence was explained by soil type with the Aquilla soil being the only significant soil. This soil is the only soil type where the Comanche harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex comanche) is found. All other species are more generalist with respect to soil type.

7.4% of species abundance was explained by soil type again with the Aquilla soil being the only significant soil. This result further supports the result with species presence: only the Comanche harvester ant has such narrow soil preference.


Though the eigenvalues are low this is not unusual for ecological data. The low level of explanatory value of these variables is likely due to the generalist nature of these species (and more temperate species in general) and the below-ground nesting of most ant species.

The Comanche harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex comanche) was the only species to show strict preference for soil type. Exactly what this species’ preference or requirement is remains unresolved.

Prelimary Work on the Comanche Harvester Ant Colony Distribution

Here are two posters which summarize preliminary work on the distribution of nests of the Comanche harvester ant  (Pogonomyrmex comanche) in the Fort Worth Nature Center, Fort Worth Texas. The nests were located visually by walking through the habitat and locating nests and following foragers back to nests. Nests were then flagged and GIS coordinates recorded. Environmental variables, geospatial data, and co-occurring ant species (Forelius and Trachymyrmex turrifex) were also evaluated.

I am currently working through 5 years of this kind of data for my final dissertation project. In the  final project, I also have nest locations for a population in the Southwest Nature Preserve in Arlington, Texas.

From 2010: Nest Distribution of the Comanche Harvester Ant


From 2012: Tracking the Comanche Harvester Ant


Prairie flowers at the Fort Worth Nature Center, Fort Worth, Texas

Ants in the Grassland: their importance and potential as indicators of ecosystem health

This is the presentation I made at the America’s Grassland Conference recently  in Manhattan, Kansas (August 2013).

I’ve posted the power point presentation below with a few additions and included the questions asked.



While we often think of ants as annoying pests, ants are important members of nearly every terrestrial ecosystem, except Antarctica. There are  perhaps 40,000 species worldwide and we have good species descriptions for about 14,000 of them – all of which are in the same family, the Formicidae.

Ants are incredibly diverse: they vary in their morphology, their behavior, their physiology, and their ecology. Ants may engineer ecosystems through their nesting and foraging habits – greatly shaping the physical landscape and thereby impacting a variety of other organisms including the plant community. Ants also have a diversity of relationships. They are important prey items as well as predators; they have important mutualistic relationships with plants, fungi, and other arthropods; they have their own parasites; they have commensals and parasites that live in their nests.

Because of all this ecological diversity, ants may be good indicators of habitats and ecosystem health. If there are changes in any of these relationships, for any of these organisms, this change may affect ant presence, activity, and abundance. Because ants are small and live on a small scale, they may detect such changes earlier than larger monitored species, such as vertebrates. Ants are also good candidates for indicators because they are easy to collect and do not have the problems of monitoring vertebrate populations which may be difficult to track, endangered or threatened species sensitive to handling, etc. The possibility for such utility has been shown in previous research.

I investigated the potential for grassland ant assemblages to be used as bio-indicators in prairies in the Fort Worth Nature Center and Wildlife Refuge in Fort Worth, Texas, including to discern habitat type and response to disturbance. I collected the ground active ants of 17 sites monthly from March – September 2012 using pitfall traps.  The 17 sites constituted a natural experiment: 3 were wooded sites and 14 were prairie sites. The sites were paired according to soil and ecological unit (from the Natural Resources Conservation Service) for wooded vs. non-wooded (3 replicates); mowed (and soil disturbance) vs. non-mowed (4 replicates); and low intensity burn vs. non-burned (2 replicates).

For each site, I measured environmental variables which are known or thought to be important to ants in choosing their nesting areas,  including depth of sand, soil penetration (compaction), depth to the restrictive layer, percent slope, drainage, percent bare ground, percent litter cover, percent standing plant cover, percent total cover, latitude, ecological units (from the NRCS), and soil type.

I used the program CANOCO to do ordination analyses: principle components analysis (PCA) on the environmental variables only and redundancy analysis (RDA) combining the environmental variables with species presence. Ant species were characterized by functional groups following Andersen (1997). The PCA confirmed that the variables chosen could be used to distinguish among sites. The RDA revealed that some of the ant species were aligned with habitats but disturbance did not matter. The sites grouped into three sets which aligned with soil types and ecological units. Some species did not align with their habitats but this may be explained by the foraging of those species into habitats other than where they nest. The RDA showed a strong relationship between the ants and the environmental variables with the interaction between percent litter cover and drainage, percent litter cover by itself and drainage by itself being significant factors. However, these factors combined did not explain more than 20% of the variation so either there are other significant factors or many factors account for the local presence of ants with none being particularly significant.

Andersen’s functional groups are problematic for these sites because some of the species placed in the groups do not have similar ecological roles as the Australian species upon which this work is based. Species richness by functional group did not vary significantly among the sites. And although the functional group designations are problematic, there is a  pattern in the composition of these assemblages with general myrmicines contributing most, followed by hot climate specialists, cryptic and opportunistic species, then tropical climate specialists and dominant species. This suggests a shape to the assemblages that may transcend individual species.

In conclusion, this project indicated weak support for these assemblages s as bioindicators and only two ants could be considered indicators of habitat: the carpenter ant species (Camponotus americanus and Camponotus pennsylvanicus) occurring in the woodlands and the Comanche harvester ant (Pogonomyrmex comanche) occurring in the Aquilla prairie.