Friday, June 23, 2017

Rhode Island's citizen scientists

            When Betty Law heard that the water quality in the pond behind her house in Warwick was so poor that it was unhealthy to swim in, she attended a public meeting at City Hall to learn more. That’s when Law, now 94, first met neighbor Gisela Meyn, 73, and they decided to do something about it.
            They teamed up with the Watershed Watch program at the University of Rhode Island to conduct tests of the water in Little Pond every week from May to October. It’s a project they have now undertaken for 21 years in a row, with no plans to stop. They have the distinction of being among the longest-active participants in a program that boasts about 350 volunteers
Gisela Meyn collecting water samples (James Jones)
monitoring water quality in more than 220 water bodies in the state each year. Law is the program’s oldest volunteer by far.
            “It was a shame that we lived on the pond and couldn’t go in the water,” said Law. “I’m not a great swimmer, but I like to cool off in it.”
            The Watershed Watch protocol requires that the pond be monitored at its deepest point, so every week the women row a small boat from the shoreline behind Meyn’s house to the middle of the pond to collect water samples and measure various characteristics of the water.
            “Gis treats me like an old lady,” joked Law. “She helps me into the boat and she rows the boat, but we do the rest together. I still drive, tap dance and sing in the choir at St. Kevin’s, too.”
            When they reached the middle of the pond – both barefoot and wearing flowery blouses and colorful shorts – they went to work. To measure water clarity, Law leaned over the edge of the boat precariously to lower a black-and-white patterned device called a secchi disk into the water, then looked through a tube to determine how far below the surface she could still see the disk. At the same time, Meyn measured the water’s temperature and depth, then submerged a complicated instrument to collect water samples at various levels. Law then conducted another secchi disk test to verify her original results.
            Twenty minutes after they started, the women rowed back to Meyn’s house, with Law serving as navigator while Meyn pulled on the oars.
            Watershed Watch is one of an increasing number of citizen science projects in Rhode Island that engage volunteers and non-scientists in collaborative efforts to collect data for scientific research.  Now in its 29th year, the program provides information that is used by water conservation organizations, policy makers, regulators and state and local officials to make decisions that affect the health of the state’s water bodies....

Monday, June 19, 2017

The edge of the world

            I don’t like the heat, so when I make travel plans, it’s usually to the north. Far north. Like to Iceland in winter, Alaska in spring, and way above the Arctic Circle in summer. There’s something about the wide open spaces when you’re above the tree line that has always been appealing to me. It’s the opposite of the sometimes claustrophobic forests of southern New England. The abundant tundra wildflowers, stunning blue-green icebergs, and close-up looks at unusual wildlife helps to complete the picture of a travel destination that appeals to all the senses in unexpected ways.
            The infinite vistas in the Arctic can be deceiving, however. It’s difficult to judge how far away things are or how large certain geographic features may be. Trust me – everything is larger than you imagine and much further away than you would guess. Bylot Island, a migratory bird sanctuary off the north end of Baffin Island in the eastern Canadian Arctic, is 16 miles
across Eclipse Sound from the village of Pond Inlet, but it looks like it’s just a mile or two distant. Don’t try to kayak there before breakfast, as I once considered, especially during polar bear season.
            But Pond Inlet, a village of about 1,300 people, mostly native Inuit whose first language is Inuktitut, is an excellent place to start your exploration of the Arctic. It’s the second largest community in the territory of Nunavut and a picturesque place to learn about Inuit culture, begin a kayak trip, or hire a guide to search for wildlife. But be prepared for the slow pace of life and the uncertain weather conditions that often delay flights and expeditions on the water by a day or two. Be certain to build in extra time in your itinerary.
            The accommodations are nothing to boast about – Sauniq Hotel is the only option aside from camping, and the hotel’s cafeteria is the only choice for meals. But no one travels this far from civilization to be pampered. Instead, plan on exploring local ice caves, hiking into the mountains that surround the village, or taking a springtime snowmobile or dogsled tour. Pond Inlet is also conveniently located near Tamaarvik Territorial Park and Sirmilik National Park, both excellent destinations for hiking and wildlife watching.
            My first trip to Pond Inlet was part of a research expedition to observe and study narwhals, the small whale with the spiral tusk that helped spawn the unicorn myth. Our guide
took us four hours west by boat to Koluktoo Bay where we camped for a week and explored the nearby fjords for wildlife. The 24-hours of daylight in early August and spectacular wildlife observations compensated for the mostly overcast and occasionally sodden weather.
            On our third night, we awoke near midnight to the sound of heavy breathing outside our tent, but instead of the feared polar bear we found a pod of narwhals rubbing their tusks against each other just 50 feet from the beach where we camped. The behavior, which looks in still photographs to be an aggressive form of swordplay was instead more akin to a gentle nuzzling, a bonding gesture among friends. Later, as we observed several small pods of narwhals around our boat, we dropped a hydrophone into the water and listened to the cacophony of barnyard sounds they emitted beneath the surface – clucking, clicking, mooing, squeaky doors and other entertaining vocal expressions. We also observed killer and beluga whales, ringed and harp seals, Arctic foxes, gyrfalcons, long-tailed jaegers and an impressive list of other wild denizens.
            Behind our campsite, we discovered an archaeological site – complete with a partially exposed human skull – from the Dorset and Thule people, ancient ancestors of the modern Inuit. The Pond Inlet Library has an excellent exhibit about the 2,500-year cultural history of the region, including displays from the turn of the 20th century when the village was a whaling station and trading post.
            Numerous other Inuit communities dot the islands and bays of the eastern Canadian Arctic, including Grise Fjord, Resolute, Rankin Inlet and Arctic Bay, many of which are worth exploring if time allows. But be prepared – flights are limited and most involve smaller aircraft and even more challenging conditions.
            Across Baffin Bay to the west coast of Greenland, summer visitors can explore several native villages, where Greenlandic is the first language, Danish the second, and English is
spoken by few but those in the tourist trade. But don’t let that stop you. It’s a chance to completely immerse yourself in a slightly different Inuit culture than that in
Canada. Fly as far as you possibly can up the west coast to the northernmost municipality on Earth, Qaanaaq, where the only accommodation is a four-room bunkhouse with home-cooked meals that are an adventure in themselves.
            Qaanaaq is a subsistence hunting village – little is available to eat for most of the year except what residents can capture themselves. They hunt polar bears and walrus in the fall, seals in winter, and narwhals and seabirds in summer, the latter season being the only two ice-free months of the year.
            The entire village can be walked end to end in less than 20 minutes, but take your time – you have no choice, since only one flight a week arrives and departs, and there is little else to do. On another narwhal research trip, I hiked the steep hillside behind the village to the receding glaciers that cover all but a narrow coastal strip of Greenland, then walked the quiet beach lined with sled dogs resting for the summer and gazed out at the innumerable icebergs slowly drifting by, some the size of a city block. I later spent an hour in the tiny Qaanaaq Museum, where an impressive collection of artifacts tells the story of the Dorset and Thule people, and in the village’s only giftshop, which sells beautiful jewelry and trinkets carved from walrus and narwhal tusks.
            The museum is the former home of ethnographer Knud Rasmussen, a Danish missionary who was the first to map northern Greenland and the first person to cross the Northwest Passage by dogsled in 1921. The house was originally 19 miles south in the village of Thule, but it was moved after a forced relocation of the entire village in the 1950s when the U.S. established a secret military base there. The natives were dropped off in what is now Qaanaaq with no housing or supplies and forced to survive a winter of -30 F temperatures in one of the saddest stories in Greenland’s history.
            Mads Ole Christiansen, the leader of the hunting association in Qaanaaq, occasionally invites visitors to his camp a two-hour boat ride away to observe a narwhal hunt and learn about the importance of whales in the Inuit culture. It’s a challenging experience – both physically and emotionally – to watch the impressive animals be killed with harpoons thrown from hand-made kayaks and then to eat their raw blubber, but there’s no better way to learn about the difficult lives of those residing in the far north.
            Traveling to Pond Inlet and Qaanaaq isn’t easy, and it’s quite expensive – especially considering the modest accommodations – but it’s a learning experience like no other and an adventure not to be missed.

This article first appeared in Aspire on June 18, 2017.

Slow down for better wildlife discoveries

            If you’re anything like me, you often find yourself rushing from place to place, and from responsibility to responsibility, seldom lingering long enough to smell the proverbial roses. But I recently found out how much I overlook when I do so.
            It has been 35 years since my childhood interest in nature blossomed into an all-consuming passion to observe as many different kinds of birds as possible. I plan my vacations around bird watching, and between trips I study up on the identifying features, habitat preferences and songs of the birds I hope to see.
Yet I learned more about birds last year – without leaving Rhode Island – than I did in the previous three decades of obsessively seeking out new species all around North America. All it took
was a concerted effort to slow down and spend time getting to know each bird by watching it a bit longer than usual.
Charles Clarkson, who runs the Rhode Island Breeding Bird Atlas, calls it “slow birding.” It’s the strategy he recommends that atlas volunteers use to document the breeding behaviors of local birds. And it’s a strategy that has opened my eyes to so many new discoveries.
Like the day last May when I heard a red-bellied woodpecker repeatedly calling from high in a tree. It’s a sound I instantly recognized and have heard hundreds or thousands of times. But this time the bird just kept calling and calling every 10 or 15 seconds.
Rather than mentally check off the species on my daily bird list, I searched for it and eventually saw the bird’s head peeking out of a hole in an oak. Moments later, it’s mate arrived and they traded places – the male flew off to feed while the female entered the tree cavity to brood her eggs. I had never observed that behavior before, and yet days later in a different forest I heard the same repeated calls and saw another pair of woodpeckers trading places.
The woodpecker in the nest was apparently telling its mate that it was ready to escape the duty of keeping the eggs warm. Maybe it was hungry or bored or just wanted a break. And its mate obliged.
Why hadn’t I ever seen this behavior before when it is apparently so common during the breeding season? Probably because I wasn’t paying enough attention. I won’t let that happen again.
Last month I spent 20 minutes watching a group of tree swallows darting over a pond, one of which carried a small white feather in its beak. As it flew higher, the bird dropped the feather and another swallow snatched it from the air and repeated the process. This wonderful game continued for several minutes until one of them eventually deposited the feather in its nest.
I also observed a pair of black-billed cuckoos mating, after which one delivered a meal of a small dragonfly to the other. And I saw a female Baltimore oriole collect long grasses in her beak and use them to weave an intricate basket-like nest beneath a branch overhanging a pond. And three times I saw gray catbirds carrying large leaves to begin construction of their nests.
I had never seen any of these behaviors before, even though I see those species regularly every spring and summer. All I had to do was slow down and pay attention.
It’s a good lesson for all of us. Take your time, keep your eyes open, and there’s no telling what natural wonder you’ll see.

This article first appeared in The Independent on June 16, 2017.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Snake Den State Park blitzed by nature enthusiasts

            The cool and wet month of May provided at least one bit of good news – it boosted the total number of mushrooms and other fungi counted by volunteers at the 18th annual Rhode Island BioBlitz to a record high on Friday and Saturday.
The 185 naturalists participating in the 24-hour event sponsored by the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, which is used to assess the biodiversity of a parcel of land, counted a
total of 1,073 species of wildlife at Snake Den State Park in Johnston, including 102 varieties of fungi. The previous record for fungi was 88.
Among the other findings were 366 vascular plants (the second highest total on record), 73 birds, 13 mammals, 77 beetles, 24 butterflies, 146 moths, 21 mosses, 67 lichens, 30 spiders, 14 dragonflies, 20 ants (nearly doubling the previous record), 14 mollusks, 12 bees, 4 fish, 6 amphibians and 8 reptiles (despite finding no turtles).
David Gregg, executive director of the Natural History Survey, said the totals were particularly notable because the 1,000-acre site was not on the coast, so no marine species were counted. He expects that when the final identifications are confirmed, the 2017 BioBlitz will
have the fourth highest species count since the event began, behind only Jamestown, Little Compton and Narragansett, all of which included a marine component.
“The other take away is that this year’s site is near Providence and it’s a working farm, so there are limits to how much you can expect to find,” Gregg said. “It’s not a pristine ecosystem like you’d find in Hopkinton or Glocester, and yet it’s actually a really good total and there are a lot of interesting things to see there. It’s well worth having protected the property.”
While the wet spring helped boost the mushroom numbers, Gregg said it probably depressed the counts of many insects, like dragonflies and butterflies, which may have delayed their activity until the weather warmed up.
The weather may have affected spider numbers, too. In a good year, spider experts typically tally 40 to 50 species, but they found just 30 this year. Mike Kieron of East Providence, curator of the Roger Williams Park Museum of Natural History, said there is a great diversity of spiders in the state, but finding them can be difficult.
“We found a lot of jumping spiders, which are one of the most active kinds of spiders, and some fishing spiders that can get up to two inches across,” he said. “Jumping spiders are ambush hunters, so they just sit there and wait for something to come by and they jump on it. They have two enormous eyes that give them such personality. They’re cute little guys.”
Mark Mello of New Bedford, the research director at the Lloyd Center for the Environment in Dartmouth, Mass., may have found the most notable species of the day, a black-bordered lemon, a tiny yellowish moth with a black line along the rear edge of its wings. It’s a species that he believes has never previously been recorded in Rhode Island.
“We’re at the northern edge of its range and its habitat is restricted, so it’s a good find,” he said as he sorted and pinned moths captured in light traps during the overnight hours.
Jason Crockwell traveled from Pittsfield, Mass., to participate in BioBlitz and search for slugs and snails, a category few volunteers paid much attention to in previous years.
“I started out interested in mushrooms, but I kept coming across slugs eating mushrooms, which prompted me to start looking into the slugs,” said Crockwell, who travels throughout the United States and Canada looking for slugs and participating in BioBlitz events. “I had a hard time finding information about them, since apparently nobody else is studying them, so I figured that was a niche I could hone in on. And maybe one day they’ll get their day in the sun”
Crockwell found all four of the slugs native to Rhode Island, and several species of snails as well.
One group of BioBlitz volunteers calls themselves the Litter Bugs.
“We’re really interested in all the members of the animal kingdom that live in leaf litter, on the forest floor or in the upper level of the soil,” explained Robert Smith of Providence, a medical researcher with an avocational interest in field biology. “We mostly end up identifying macro-invertebrates – things like millipedes and springtails and spectacular pseudo scorpions.”
They scoop up small quantities of soil and leaves and sort through it until they find living creatures, which they then identify under a microscope.
“What appeals to me about this is that in one trowelful of litter and soil you really have an entire ecosystem,” he said, noting that the Litter Bugs typically identify 20 to 30 species at each BioBlitz. “You don’t have to walk miles through a forest to find them. Most of the organisms probably live their entire lives in a very constrained area. You’re looking at the whole spectrum of an ecosystem in one scoop.”

This article first appeared on EcoRI.org on June 13, 2017.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Too late, baby, now it's too late

            When Rhode Island House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan sent a letter to Governor Gina Raimondo on May 2 asking that a plan be developed and launched to eradicate gypsy moth caterpillars throughout the state, she was likely responding to the highly-visible emergence of masses of tiny caterpillars from their eggs that week. Her reaction could be considered understandable, since just walking outside in proximity to trees left many residents with specks of moth larva clinging to their clothing.
            According to one expert, however, a statewide eradication program is unnecessary and may even backfire. And by the time the caterpillars hatch, it’s already too late to plan and
implement an eradication program.
            Heather Faubert, an entomologist who directs the Plant Protection Clinic at the University of Rhode Island, agrees that the state is in for another year of forest defoliation that will likely be similar to the 230,000 acres that were defoliated by gypsy moth, winter moth and forest tent caterpillars in 2016.
            “But by the end of this growing season, the population of gypsy moth caterpillars will crash and they won’t be a problem next year,” said Faubert, who monitors caterpillar populations for the state’s fruit growers. “The diseases that usually control the population start spreading when the population is high and when we have wet weather in May. We’re having a wet May, so I expect the population to crash all on its own this year.
            “But not before the gypsy moths that are already here do quite a bit of damage,” she added.
            She said that the only way to eradicate gypsy moths throughout the state would be through aerial spraying of an insecticide.
            “There’s no other solution,” Faubert said. “And it would need to be done by the third or fourth week of May. Logistically it’s not even possible to organize a spraying program that quickly.”
            She said that the usual insecticide used to kill gypsy moth caterpillars in aerial spraying is not available commercially and must be ordered by state governments in the autumn. The next best choice is one of the so-called Bt insecticides, which attack all caterpillars, not just gypsy moths, wiping out all moth and butterfly populations in the area sprayed.
            “There was opposition to aerial spraying in the early 1980s, and there would be a lot more opposition now,” said Faubert.
            Even if a plan were developed, the insecticide acquired, opposition quelled, and spraying took place during the most optimal time, Faubert believes it would likely prolong the gypsy moth outbreak.
            “If we spray, there will certainly be lots of pockets of places that don’t get sprayed,” she said. “And the chemicals are never 100 percent effective. So if, say, 15 percent of the caterpillars in the state survive, the caterpillar population won’t be dense enough to spread the diseases that usually kill them off, so we’ll be facing the same problem next year.”
          Unfortunately, while the prognosis for next year is good, the state is in for a rough summer this year. Even if May remains wet and the diseases spread throughout the caterpillar population as Faubert predicts, the caterpillars won’t die until they are full grown and have already eaten a huge number of leaves.
Sadly, it’s not just the trees that will be affected.
            A number of local ecologists have noted that forest defoliation allows more direct sunlight onto the usually shaded forest floor, which means sun-loving invasive plants have a greater opportunity to spread through the forest; shade-loving frogs and salamanders may struggle to remain cool and moist; and some birds and small mammals may find it more difficult to hide from predators.
            The increased sunlight through the trees also means that the water temperature in many forested streams and ponds will likely increase, resulting in a reduction in dissolved oxygen levels in the water that can cause distress in sensitive aquatic species.
            On the other hand, URI ornithologist Peter Paton said that several species of migratory songbirds that feast on gypsy moth caterpillars, especially black-billed and yellow-billed cuckoos, will likely benefit from the abundance of caterpillars in the forest this year. Birdwatchers in the area noticed an unusually large number of cuckoos last year, and this year’s population should be even greater. Indigo buntings, which prefer open habitat, also tend to experience short-term increases when trees are defoliated.
            David Gregg, director of the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, said that he found unusually healthy populations of some spring wildflowers in Snake Den State Park in Johnston this month, which he attributes to the defoliation from last year’s gypsy moth outbreak.
            “Most forest floor plants are adapted for growing in the dark of the forest canopy, but some are still capable of growing faster and better if they have more light,” he explained. “So when there's defoliation, they have a good year. That means they put away a lot of food into their roots and have a good next spring.
            “But,” he added, “most of the rest of the gypsy moth news is bad.”

This article first appeared in Newport Mercury on May 23, 2017.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Mowing less does more good

            Farmers, gardeners and others whose livelihoods depend on a healthy population of wild bees to pollinate cultivated crops and other plants have become increasingly worried in recent years. The global decline of bees – due to pesticides, climate change and natural parasites and pathogens – has led to reports that the world food supply may be threatened, along with millions of jobs and an unknown number of ecosystems.
            As worrisome as it is, there appears to be little that most of us living regular lives in suburbia can do to improve the situation. Yes, we can plant native pollinator gardens to provide
nectar to bees and butterflies in our yards. And if you haven’t already done so, then I encourage you to take that step. But not everyone has room for a garden or the time and money and physical ability to plant and maintain one.
            But recent research by an urban ecologist in Massachusetts suggests that there is an even easier step we all can take to benefit local bees. And rather than requiring that we do something more, it instead requires that we do less than most of us already do.
            Susannah Lerman at the U.S. Forest Service’s Northern Research Station in Amherst sought to determine whether lawns could somehow provide useful habitat for bees. So she spent two years regularly visiting 16 suburban lawns in Springfield, Mass., some of which were mowed weekly and others every other week or every third week.
What she found was quite surprising.
            During her visits to the lawns – none of which were treated with pesticides or herbicides – she discovered 64 flowering plant species growing among the blades of grass, including dandelions and clovers, of course, but also violets, smartweed, cinquefoil, rockcress and others considered by everyone to be wildflowers. These “spontaneous flowers,” as she called them, were not intentionally planted, but they still provided an abundance of pollen and nectar to bees.
            What was even more surprising is that Lerman and a colleague collected and identified 111 different kinds of bees on the properties. That’s about one quarter of the total number of bee species ever found in Massachusetts. One yard had an amazing 53 species. And even more astonishing than that – the most abundant species of bee was a sweat bee that had not been recorded in the state since the 1920s.
            So how can we do less to help our local bees? By mowing our lawns less often, Lerman said. It turns out that the lawns with the largest number of bees on them were the lawns mowed every two weeks instead of every week. That extra week in between mowing allowed some of the slower-growing spontaneous flowers the time they needed to bloom and provide nectar to the bees.
            Lerman concluded that the best thing most homeowners can do to reverse the decline in bees is to forego the use of chemical lawn treatments, plant a pollinator garden if possible, and only mow the lawn every other week at most.
            Some of the lawn-obsessed among us may find it challenging to follow these suggestions because they see dandelions and clovers as weeds. But Lerman told me that “we need to change their perceptions and show that those plants are really providing wildlife habitat.”
            So do a little less to your lawn this year, and feel good that you’re actually doing a little more for your local bees at the same time.

This article first appeared in the Independent on May 22, 2017.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Documenting Rhode Island's ant diversity

            James Waters calls ants “the most ecologically dominant animal on Earth,” which may sound like an exaggeration from an enthusiastic ant aficionado. But the assistant professor of biology at Providence College can back it up.
Ants have colonized nearly everywhere around the globe except Antarctica; more than 12,500 species are recognized; and they are social creatures that have a division of labor, communication between individuals, and the ability to solve complex problems. There are so many ants, in fact, that their total biomass surpasses the biomass of every human in the world.
            And yet very little is known about the ants that call Rhode Island home.
            That’s where Waters comes in. At a lecture on May 11 sponsored by the Rhode Island Natural History Survey, he outlined his efforts to characterize the biodiversity and natural history ofthe ants living on the PC campus, as well as a broader effort to do so for the entire state.
            Waters said he is following in the footsteps of Rev. Charles Reichart, a PC professor for 50
years who died in 1997 and whose collection of thousands of insects now resides at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.
            “Three years ago my students started taking photos of the local ants on campus, and now we’re taking a more scientific approach to figuring out what ants live there,” said Waters, who joined the PC faculty in 2014. “We set up a grid on campus, set up three pitfall traps per grid with soapy water in them, and collected any ant that fell in.”
            It turned out that counting and identifying all of the collected specimens was a laborious task. In 10 weeks, Waters and his students amassed more than 2,000 specimens, and it took almost two years of work to sort and identify them. They found 16 species of ants on the college campus, although since they only placed their traps on the ground, they probably missed many other species that live in trees and other habitats.
            The most common ants the students collected were pavement ants, carpenter ants, labor day ants, and the bizarrely named somewhat silky ants and yellow-legged crazy ants. Among the rarest species documented were the short-horned slender ant, long-spined acorn ant, tawny seed-harvesting ant, pale ant and Asian needle ant.
            The discovery of the Asian needle ant was particularly unexpected, since it had never before been recorded in New England. An invasive species, it arrived in the United States in the 1930s and has become common in the mid-Atlantic states, but the closest it was believed to have come to Rhode Island was New York.
            “So I told all my students that if they found another one on campus they wouldn’t have to take the final exam,” Waters said. “Most of them found one, almost all around one building on campus. I have no idea why they were at that one building, but they haven’t been found anywhere else on campus, or in Rhode Island or New England.”
            Among the other species found on the Providence College campus by Waters’ students was the common vampire ant, a species so small that it can barely be seen with the naked eye. “They don’t drink our blood,” Waters said, “but they do puncture their own babies and drink the hemolymph,” a blood-like fluid in invertebrates.
            Also found were five species of acorn ants -- tiny insects that live inside acorns – and many citronella ants, which smell like citronella oil.
            According to Waters, most ants produce a distinctive odor from trace amounts of a natural oil they put on their exoskeleton. Some ants can even distinguish what colony an individual ant is from based on its odor. And he said that some ant experts at Harvard University are adept at identifying ant species by their odor alone.
            Waters can’t do that yet, but he’s learning. He became interested in ants while in graduate school at Arizona State University, where he modeled the flow of air through insect lungs as part of a study of insect metabolism. Other students were studying social insects, including ants.
            “I asked them about the energy use of an ant colony, and no one knew the answer,” he said. “I only got interested in the natural history aspect of ants after grad school. I had all this data on the energy use of these species, but I didn’t know what they did on a daily basis. I wound up in Rhode Island and didn’t know anything about the ants here. Now I’m just trying to discover what I can about our local species.”
            Over the next two years, he plans to develop and conduct a systematic survey of ants throughout the state. As a relative newcomer to Rhode Island, he is still trying to identify interesting places with unusual habitat to survey. He also intends to visit the Smithsonian to review Reichart’s insect collection to see what ant species the former PC professor found in the mid-1900s.
            “So far, we’ve identified lots of new state and county records,” Waters said, noting that he estimates that about 100 ant species live in Rhode Island. “But we still have a long way to go.”

This article was first published in EcoRI.org on May 18, 2017.