Ants play important roles in ecosystems, yet they often go unnoticed. To
raise awareness of the importance and diversity of these tiny insects, the
Iimbovane Outreach Project* presented a training session for SANParks
Junior Rangers in the Karoo National Park recently.
The Iimbovane Outreach Project has been monitoring the ant diversity of
the Karoo National Park since 2006. To-date, the project has identified
approximately 63 morphospecies in the Park, many of which are important
for the seed dispersal of indigenous plant species, the breakdown of organic
material, soil turnover and nutrient recycling. Anoplolepis steingroeveri,
Crematogaster melanogaster and Meranoplus cf. peringueyi are some of
the most common and abundant species found in the Park.
The session, entitled “Amazing Ants of Karoo National Park”, gave
the Junior Rangers an overview of the significant role that ants play in
ecosystems and how scientists identify different species. It also introduced
the Junior Rangers to sampling methods, and through trying each method,
the youngsters came to see the advantages and limitations of each method.
The teenagers remarked afterwards that the best part of the training was
when they looked at the ants under a microscope and used the training
they received to identify the ants. Seeing the ants from up-close, they
suddenly stopped being the bountiful pests in sugar pots and became
creatures of fascination.
*Iimbovane is both a science outreach and long-term biodiversity
monitoring project supported by the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence for
Invasion Biology and based at Stellenbosch University. The long-term
monitoring component of the project examines ant diversity through space
and time. Educators and learners from secondary schools throughout the
Western Cape assist Iimbovane with the monitoring through participation
in on-site sampling.