We have two interns pursuing independent projects in the lab. Jill Pastick, a junior at Lakeforest College, is testing out different methods of germinating Echinacea achenes and helping us prepare the germination phase of two ongoing experiments.
Gia Hallaman, a junior at Northwestern, is helping out with several projects, including counting achenes in x-ray images from Jill's germination experiment (you can see them on the computer screen below). She is also learning how to identify ants to morphospecies. That means distinguishing different species based on morphology and making our best guess on which species they are. It takes time to develop an eye for the different traits that distinguish closely related species; often the most obvious traits, like color and size, are not informative for differentiating species. Jill is learning to use a combination of tools, including online dichotomous keys and photo databases (antweb.org), to identify ants to species or morphospecies. With her help, we should be able to make a dent in identifying the ants we collected from Minnesota prairie remnants in the summer of 2012.