Several years ago, we started paying more attention in our lab to what was going on biologically near at hand. This transition would eventually lead us into backyards, then houses, then colons, but it stared with North Carolina State University’s campus.
The campus is at what was once the western edge of the city of Raleigh, a city whose location was chosen by its originators as a function of its nearness to a bar. And yet despite this idiosyncratic origin, Raleigh has proven to be an auspicious ecological locale for a city and a campus, at least from the perspective of those of who enjoy the full diversity of insect life.
Raleigh is at the southern edge of cool temperate forest, the northern edge of the sand plains and the center of the Piedmont. It is a crossroads (which actually, not to digress too much, also explains the location of the bar). As a result, insect-beasts from each of these regions can be found in the city. The precise mix of legged life that forms in Raleigh is unlike that almost anywhere else. But times are changing. Raleigh is becoming ever more urban, hotter and more connected to the rest of southeastern sprawl than ever before
We wonder what effect these changes will have on the six-legged life of which we are so fond, species such as the ants. We wonder too about the effect of the many new species that have arrived in the region, whether because urbanization has created conditions that are more like southwestern deserts than cool forests and hence favor desert-adapted species, or because we have introduced species into the region that are tougher in one way or another than our native ants, species such as fire ants, Argentine ants, Asian needle ants, and more.
Fortunately, one of the great things about being at an institution that values science where people live, a land-grant institution with a commitment to public science, is that people have been keeping an eye on the life around campus for a while; this extends to the ants. In the late 1970s, T.P. Nuhn, then a graduate student, surveyed the campus for ants.