Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Mapping ant colonies

A colleague of mine forwarded this to me last week, but I went away and haven't had chance to deal with it properly until now.

Researchers at Texas A&M University used Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to map a colony of Atta texana, producing a 3D model of the tunnels and chambers. It's all very clever and has the advantage of being non-invasive.

I've seen some of the models that Walter Tschinkel has produced and they are very attractive (and scientifically valuable). However, these models do result in the destruction of the colony and can be very time consuming to produce. By using GPR the colony is not destroyed.

Whilst I think that this is a great step forward, I doubt how well it can be implemented in the short term. The trouble is, whilst A. texana colonies are big, most ant colonies are small with narrow tunnels, and I doubt that the GPR would be sensitive to pick up all the finer details. Maybe in the future, if the sensitivity of the equipment improves, this technique will become more valuable. It's also much harder to visualise the colony without an actual physical model, though no doubt these could be created at additional cost if needed.

It will be interesting to see how this develops (and how the technology can be used in other fields - mapping European badger Meles meles setts for a start). More information is available on the project website.

I also followed a link from the BBC web page this was reported on and discovered that a friend of mine has made the news, again... (Show off.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was actually aware of this work a long while back because the guy who did the modeling was asking questions about leafcutter ants and I had posted his first results:


The question is are Atta tunnels similar in diameter to other ants, because their technique seems to be fine enough to separate out the smaller tunnels in Atta texana nests. In which case, it should also work fine for many ant species (at least the ones with larger workers)