The Ants of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History
Is your house overrun by ants? Don’t worry, your’re certainly not alone. This summer’s project of the Quasars to Seastars entomology group was to find out just how many different kinds of ants we could find in and around the Museum.
The Quasars to Seastars program is a Museum-wide program for high schoolers. The research described here was carried out by four students in the program, Sara Amiri, Marisa Krystian, Kelley McCord, and Jacob Sanchez, under the supervision of Museum entomology curator, Michael Caterino.
Our question was prompted by growing concern about displacement of native species by one introduced species, the Argentine ant. The loss of these natives has had numerous negative ecosystem-wide consequences. Knowing that the Argentine ant is a prominent species locally, we were primarily interested to know whether, in fact, any native ant species still existed in the area.
We placed 50 pairs of baited traps at locations scattered in all habitats surrounding the Museum. Each pair had one tuna bait, and one honey bait. These were left out for a day, and then all ants in each trap were collected, counted, and identified.
What we found was that a very small number of native species were persisting in a few small areas. You can read more about each of the species we found on the following pages:
The aerial photo below shows the Museum of Natural History grounds and most of adjacent Rocky Nook Park. The enhanced blue line is Mission Creek, which borders the Museum campus. Dots indicate our sampling sites, with colors showing which species were found at each site. It is easy to see that the invasive Argentine ant dominates in nearly all habitats.
This short survey leaves many questions unanswered. In particular, we are unsure what native ant species would have inhabited our area prior to the Argentine ant’s introduction. Some collecting further up Mission Canyon has revealed numerous additional ants, including members of the genera Liometopum, Myrmecia, Formica, and Camponotus, and it seems likely that these would once have lived here as well. What ecological differences might account for these species’ disappearance while those we found persisted?
Whatever the answers to these questions, it is important that we continue to keep tabs on the consequences to native communities of the introduction of non-native species (be they ants or plants or whatever). For inconspicuous but important organisms like ants it would be very easy for our native species to disappear without our even knowing it.