Recently, members of the Gratton lab (Tania Kim, Savannah Bartel, and Natalie Hernandez) and Doug Landis lab at MSU (Bill Wills) visited the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History to view specimens from their ant collection. Ants play important roles in perennial grasslands. As natural predators, they eat insect pests (right) and as ecosystem engineers, their nests (like the mound building ants, left) aerate the soil thus facilitating decomposition and plant root formation, and reducing soil compaction.
While a lot of research has been done on ants in the tropics and certain parts of the US (southwest, southeast, and northeast), less is known about the ant communities in the upper Midwest. As a result, we reached out to Sean Menke (an ant taxonomist) at Lake Forest College and borrowed voucher specimens from the Field Museum to help identify some of our trickier ant specimens (Myrmica and Formica genera). Thanks Sean and Crystal Maier (collection manager at the Field Museum) for your help and for a great visit!