Sunday, July 5, 2015

Long Island Adventures

By Angelica Lillico-Ouachour
MSc Student, Abouheif Lab

Our trip to Long Island, NY was quite the adventure! Our first stop was the Biology & Genomics of Social Insects Conference at Cold Spring Harbor. We arrived late in the evening and were able to catch Gene Robinson's talk on transcriptional regulation and metabolism in honeybees to kick off the meeting. As a new scientist in this field, this was an amazing experience and really set the tone for the rest of the conference.

After a few beers and a good night's sleep, we were able to listen to more talks throughout the next day and remainder of the conference. These talks were not only academically exciting but they were compellingly delivered. Some highlights for me were: 
  • Dr. Laurent Keller, “The influence of genes and environment on behavior and social organization”
  • Dr. Christina Grozinger, “Pheromonal mediation of cooperation and conflict in social insects”
  • Dr. Deborah Gordon, “Evolution of the regulation of foraging in harvester ants"

Did I mention that Cold Spring Harbor itself was beautiful?!

Travis and Juni admiring the view.
Our next stop in Long Island was Medford and the New York Pine Barrens to collect ants! Long Island is a great place to collect Pheidole morrisi and this time of year proved to be quite fruitful. We found 11 colonies and several had multiple queens! In fact, Juni and Travis broke an Abouheif lab record and found one colony with 7 queens (previous record: 6 queens). The best part of this visit was meeting with Ehab's friend, Ray Sangwald, who is a remarkable citizen scientist. He is incredibly passionate about slave raiding ants and his backyard is full of colonies that he has collected data on for over 60 years! 

We also had a little adventure to collect in the New Jersey Pine Barrens with Kevin Purce, a PhD student in Dr. Sean O'Donnell's lab at Drexel University, and Maria Traficante, a technician in Dr. Danny Reinberg's lab at NYU. They were great field companions and, although we didn't find any Pheidole morrisi, we did find Pheidole pilfera and some rogue golf balls on the ATV course adjacent to the forest.

Travis collecting ants in style.
This week long trip was an incredible learning experience and a fantastic motivator. I feel so lucky that at this stage in my career I was able to both listen to experts in the field and obtain field experience in one go.