| Story by Cindy Cain |
The Forest Preserve District has ants in its plants, which is the perfect scenario for a University of St. Francis research team.
The team is looking at the relationship between ants and plants and the role the insects play in dispersing seeds.
The subject matter may be small, but the results are intriguing and helpful for the environment, said Chloe Lash, an assistant professor of biology at the school who is leading the team.
“I think that studying ants offers a unique perspective on the world,” she said. “These tiny little animals, that we walk over every day or that we complain about when they are in our kitchens, are so vital to our natural spaces.
“Ants plant the forest understory – next time you go for a spring wildflower walk, be sure to thank the ants,” she added. “They also provide other important services to the ecosystem, like turning soil and helping with decomposition. The littlest organisms are often the most important for the function of our planet!”
The ants Lash and her team are studying in Will County preserves are called aphaenogaster, or winnow ants.