Kristie Falconer ’20, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

I had the privilege to travel to Kenya where I evaluated the role that harvester ants have on the dispersal of buffel grass. Buffel grass is native to Kenya, but is invasive in Texas, Arizona and parts of northern Mexico. The grass chokes out native vegetation due to its high drought tolerance and it has a tendency to cause fires. To evaluate this problem, I wanted to figure out how buffel grass is dispersed in its home range. I collected data on the seed preferences of two unstudied dispersal species of harvester ants, Messor cephalotes and Messor angularis. I compared the percentages of seed species in the immediate environment to what the ants physically carried along their trails and to the seed husks present in their “trash” piles. This internship involved a lot of lab work, including counting, measuring, identifying and weighing individual seeds and ants under microscopes. Thanks to my mentors, I learned a lot about the troubleshooting and flexibility inherent to field research, along with many skills for organizing field data.