It’s always fun to have visiting scientists come to our lab — it gives us a chance to show off our beautiful campus and city and, mostly, reinvigorates us and reminds us why we do what we do. Plus we get to eat ice cream in the middle of the day using the thinly veiled excuse: “It’s made right here on campus!” Tyler Vitone, a master’s student in Andrea Lucky’s lab at the University of Florida, drove up to Raleigh this week to meet with the Dunn Lab and Your Wild Life to about ants.
Lea: What is your affiliation with the Andrea Lucky lab?
Tyler: I just finished my first year in my master’s program with Andrea Lucky at the University of Florida in the Entomology and Nematology Department. There I do three major things: 1) Take classes and work as a teaching assistant in a course titled “The Insects” which is a general entomology course for non-science majors at the University of Florida, 2) Process samples that come in for School of Ants from the state of Florida, 3) Do my research which involves the pavement ant, Tetramorium species E. I am doing population genetics work on that species with samples collected by School of Ants participants throughout the country.
What’s the most exciting part of your job?
Getting to work with School of Ants samples from all throughout the country. For my project, specifically, I used pavement ant samples collected in 260 unique locations throughout the country. Collecting all of those samples by myself would be a giant feat. All I had to do was contact your lab and someone mailed me all of the samples I needed.
What types of work do you do with schools? Why do you think it’s important to get kids involved in your research?
I definitely think it’s important to get the public involved in science to increase their scientific understanding. My brother and I were the first people in my family to go to college; we are both first generation college students. I was always really interested in science growing up; and I’ve tried hard to convince my parents why the scientific work I do is interesting and important. I’m interested in communicating science — first with my parents and now with students. I think it’s something cool that I can do with the position that I’m in now at the University of Florida.
How do you think that citizen science empowers students to feel more involved in the scientific community?
People often perceive science as something that’s limited to really nerdy, academic-type people and that to be a scientist you have to work in a lab. I think citizen science projects really help the public to understand that science really isn’t this inaccessible thing that only a few people have an opportunity to participate in — anybody can participate and be a scientist by making observations in their backyard.
What made you focus on pavement ants (Tetramorium spp.)?
Tetramorium is one of the most widespread urban ants in North America and little is known about this ant because it lives in urban environments. People don’t study ecological questions in urban environments as often as they do in forested environments. There’s a lot of opportunity to study Tetramorium since it’s so broadly distributed. The number and geographic distribution of School of Ants samples allow me to do a wide scale study of the species. There are a lot of interesting questions that you can answer because such little is known about the species.