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Professor’s ant studies give us a look underground

Biology Professor Chad Tillberg is helping scientists better understand the impact of ants on local landscapes.

He recently contributed to Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior, which has engaged the efforts of many of the best behavioral biologists of the 21st century.

Tillberg’s research has covered a variety of small creatures, and he’s currently looking at the pavement ant Tetramorium caespitum, analyzing its distribution and habits.

Not native to Oregon, pavement ants stowed away on a ship bound for North America in the 1700s. Although they’ve been in Oregon for years, few people have bothered to look under their sidewalks to observe them.

That could be a problem, Tillberg says, as one colony can sustain 10,000 workers. Since ants make up a sizable fraction of biomass, those workers might be wrecking havoc on Oregon landscapes.

Tillberg and his students are surveying the ants in local parks to see how invasive they are and how they compete with native ants for habitat and food.

“Invasive species can change the character of native habitat, including flora and fauna at all levels,” Tillberg says. “The pavement ants may even be affecting agriculture.

“They seem to be a dominant competitor, so we need to see if they are having a negative effect on native populations. We want to better understand the process of invasion, the areas that might be vulnerable to invasion, and what can be done to prevent biodiversity and habitat loss.

“Most people don’t spend much time thinking about ants,” he says, “but they are beautiful.”

Tillberg’s work has been covered on MSNBC.com and LiveScience.com, and in The New York Times and The Oregonian. Read more about Tillberg in the Linfield Magazine.

A Bug’s Life (photos)

Biology studies at Linfield

Chad Tillberg’s website