Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Morinda Study Kick Off!

We have lift off!

Three years in planning and two previous failed attempts at initiating this key weaver ant study culminated in an emotional ceremony on Thursday 5th June 2007 where fresh colonies of the ant were released over two days onto the trees in my study plot. I watched my precious large red ants swarm onto the release platform, immediately and instinctively attacking the mealworms supplied to them, and quickly dispersing via the cotton string bridges to the trees surrounding the release platform. Oh joy!

The purpose of this study is to determine if a favored host plant of this ant (Morinda citrifolia, "noni") mix-planted with Khaya ivorensis, will enhance the establishment of relocated colonies by providing constant and/or more diverse food sources. In other words, I wanted to see if the ants would do better in plots where they had access to both host plant species, compared with plots with only one host plant species.

Easy right?


The first release went swimmingly... we had spent weeks prior searching for weaver ant colonies and recording their particulars (esp size), and took them from the Maju Aik Khaya plantation in Perak. A back-breaking day of harvesting 12 entire colonies, bagging them in specially-designed breathable muslin cloth bags, transporting the ants in air-conditioned 4WD comfort, and releasing them with blessings to 'go forth and multiply'... then ... calamity struck as the resident black ants, Dolichoderus sp (the Dolly ants) overwhelmed the reduced defenses of the relocated weaver ant colonies. The weaver ants put up a courageous fight, but were outnumbered 1000 to 1. The ground beneath the arboreal battlefield (both ant species are tree nesters) was strewn with little ant corpses.

The second release also went without a hitch. In addition to careful prior planning to tackle the Dolly ant problem, we obtained all the nests nearby from fruit and other trees on FRIM's campus. The weaver ants once again colonised all their allocated trees, quickly constructing their leafy shelters and partaking of the food and drink we lavished upon them. This time though, disaster struck in the form of a nomadic anteater... undeterred by the bird repellent this enemy-of-all-ants climbed up the trees and ripped open the weaver ant nests. The ant babies stood little chance and were mostly consumed. Heart-breaking is the only word to describe the scene of the massacre that greeted the eye.

Third time is a charm!! We are going ALL OUT this time to make sure the ants get the best chance to establish and thrive in the study plot. Details may follow later, but piccys can be viewed here for your immediate gratification!
Weaver ant Morinda study

Stay tuned for the next instalment in this exciting study....

P.S. Hey it would be great if you could click on any ad here and I'll get 1 cent per click, from the advertisers. Thanks!

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