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Learning the Secrets of Ants and Plants in Mozambique’s Gorongosa National Park

Studying small animals is very challenging. More than 50 percent of organisms on Earth are insects (Grimaldi & Engel, 2005). Ants are important because they distribute nutrients in soil, and they are the cleaners and engineers of the ecosystem. This is why there is a need to understand insects, particularly ants and the plants that interact with them.

My research has to do with the interaction these organisms have with one another. With this research I intend to learn what kind of relationship there is between them, how important they are to each other, and finally correlate that with DAP (diameter from the breast), because sometimes the diameter of a tree as measured at breast height can determine the amount of species in that tree.

In this picture I show the tree species Vachellia xanthophloea (Fever tree), where we can find differents types of ants. I have particularly focused on ants named Pheidole, which is a common species in Gorongosa National Park.

This ant has the common characteristic of the genus Camponotus, where the thorax is regular beginning from the petiole at its head, but different to others in that Camponotus auropubens has a white spine and mandibles and its legs are purple.

This is the photo I like most, because in December 2016, when I started my study, I had a conception about the ants of the genus Pheidole that they were protective of the predators (caterpillars of butterflies) of Vachellia xanthophloea.  But this year (2017), I observed ants that belong to the same genus preying on an insect belonging to the Coleoptera order. This made me wonder about two different behaviors at completely different times. It raises the question as to why these ants present different behaviors at different times. Or are they ants belonging to the same genus, but different species?

These ants of the genus Pheidole live in colonies, communicate using pheromones, and are responsible for the security of their colony. They live at the base of the tree and feed on other insects that inhabit the plant.

This is me working in the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory in Gorongosa National Park. In this study all the ants species found on site are collected by hand. For species identification, I use a microscope and identification keys.

Norina Carlos de Jesus Francisco Vicente is a Mozambican. She completed her secondary school education in 2013 at the Primary and Secondary School of Miniarte. She studied Ecotourism and Wildlife Management at Instituto Superior Politecnico de Manica. She discovered her passion for ants and plants while making photographs of wildlife. She works with ant and plants at the Edward O. Wilson Biodiversity Laboratory at Gorongosa National Park.

Norina participated in the National Geographic Society Sciencetelling Bootcamp in Gorongosa National Park, September 2017. More than a dozen researchers and conservationists associated with Mozambique’s iconic park partnered with a team of National Geographic storytellers to develop personal and professional storytelling skills through public speaking, videography, photography, social media and blogging. The multi-day Sciencetelling course was created especially for scientists and conservationists to effectively communicate their work to audiences beyond peer-reviewed journals. A selection of their blog posts, photographs and videos will be published on the Sciencetelling Stories blog. Learn more about National Geographic’s Sciencetelling Bootcamp program.

Comments

  1. Norina
    Mozambique
    October 15, 3:51 pm

    First i want to thank for all of you for the comments and encourage. Is a honor and challenge working with this beautiful organisms.

  2. Charles, AJS
    Rio de Janeiro (Brasil)
    October 14, 6:09 am

    Congratulations to you Norina for the global achievement not only for own life but Mozambican nation, to the ecosystem and biodiversity within Gorongosa National Park, to National Geographic, you´re unmeasurable scientific pride in essence.

  3. Charles, AJS
    Rio de Janeiro (Brasil)
    October 14, 6:09 am

    Congratulations to you Norina for the global achievement not only for own life but Mozambican nation, to the ecosystem and biodiversity within Gorongosa National Park, to National Geographic, you´re unmeasurable scientific pride in essence,

  4. Zefanias Magodo
    Chimoio-Moçambique
    October 13, 12:41 pm

    Muita força!
    Caminho é em frente.

  5. Alvaro Vetina
    Maputo City, Mozambique
    October 13, 1:58 am

    Well done Norina, Good work on your research…There are very good questions…