2017 Lab Assistant Application
Over the last decade, there has been a surge of interest in non-human personalities. Animals that span a wide range of taxa have been shown to have behavioral tendencies that are consistent across time and contexts. Some individuals are consistently aggressive, bold, and take risks, while others are calm, calculated, and cautious. Most of these studies have been focused on individual personalities, leaving collective personalities of highly social groups, like ant colonies, largely unexplored. Thinking of the ant colony as a singular functioning superorganism, this project asks: do ant colonies maintain collective personalities? To answer this question, I study tropical Azteca ants that live inside Cecropia trees in the rainforests of Panama over the last 8 months. This system involves a tightly-bound mutualism where trees provide food and shelter in return for protection from herbivores and encroaching vines. Five behavioral traits (including aggression, exploration, etc.) were repeatedly tested for each colony and recorded on HD video. The applicant's role as a researcher would be to analyze these videos by scoring the behavior of the ants for each trait using video scoring software. This work is fun and interesting, but can be tedious at times. Prolonged vigilance and attention to detail are required. Other tasks may include counting preserved ants, analyzing the nutrient content of food bodies and leaves, and analysis of colony genetics. The student will be invited to lab meetings to discuss stimulating new research, and may ultimately have an opportunity to participate in my next field season in the Panamanian rainforest as a field assistant in the Spring/Summer of 2017.