Studying the world of ants in your backyard

University of the Pacific’s Department of Biological Sciences is offering a new opportunity for the local community to get involved in science and learn more about a group of animals. Backyard ANTology, a citizen-science program, was initiated by Assistant Professor Zachary Stahlschmidt in 2016. Professor Stahlschmidt recently answered some frequently asked questions about the program and how people can get involved.

Q: What is Backyard ANTology?

A: Backyard ANTology is a citizen-science program focused on engaging non-scientists of all ages in science using ants in the Central Valley as a focal system.

Q: What inspired you to form this citizen-science program?

A: We wanted to form an outreach program to promote science to the general public, and this program allows people to learn a bit more about a group of animals that everyone has encountered.  We wanted to focus on the Central Valley because it is very understudied, but likely has a range of interesting impacts to native ecosystems (e.g., intensive agriculture and urbanization).

Q: How long has the program been running?

A: We started to pilot the program in the Summer of 2016.

Q: How long will the program continue?

A: We don’t have an end date for the program, and we’d like to keep it running as long as there is interest.

Q: What kind of impact do you hope to make in the community?

A: We hope to give community members a better appreciation for the incredible biology and diversity of the critters they regularly encounter in their everyday lives.  As part of the program, we are implementing assessment to determine the program’s impact on participants’ attitudes toward science.

Q: How many Pacific students are involved in this program, and what are their majors?

A: At least five biology undergraduates and one MS student have contributed to various aspects of the program or other ant-related research in our lab.  However, Dustin Johnson, a ’17 biology undergraduate (pictured left), has been absolutely integral to the program.

Q: What is the benefit for people in the community if they get involved?

A: The main benefit for community members is that they’ll get to participate in the process of science.  There is a fundamental discovery element to participation as we are in regular contact with participants regarding identification of the ants they collect, posting their results on our interactive website, etc.

Q: How can people get involved in this program?

A: Participating in Backyard ANTology is easy and free.  The best way to get involved is to first go to our website.  Here, people can request ant-collecting kits, learn about common ants, and see where ants have been collected through the program.  We send kits to participants, they collect ants wherever they choose, and then they return the kits to us in pre-paid envelopes.  We follow-up via email and post their results on the website.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about the program?

A: We have a Facebook page, and we welcome participants of all ages.

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