Walker Darling, 2018, Geosciences

This summer, I interned at the Mpala Research Centre in the Laikipia District of Kenya. I studied the interactions between an invasive ant species known as the Big-headed ant (Pheidole megacephala), and pollinators on the surfaces of flowers. This ant species is known to be very aggressive. It often attacks other ant species, leading to steep declines in diversity. In order to examine whether this aggressive behavior affected other species besides ants, I observed pollinator visitation on flowers that were frequented by both pollinators and the Big-headed ants. The goal of this project was to see if the ants were causing a decrease in the visitation rates. If true, this would influence how well the flowers reproduce and could potentially lower the abundance of seeds produced. Through the project, I was able to experience research in the field firsthand, gain an understanding of how small changes in visitation rates can change the diversity of the flora in an area, and get an idea of what life is like for an evolutionary and ecological biologist. This internship really helped me gain a new perspective on research outside of the geosciences.