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Leaf cutter ant foraging

Author(s): Jeremy M Wojdak1, Justin Touchon2, Myra Hughey2

1. Radford University 2. Vassar College

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This module introduces students to leaf-cutter ants in the rainforests of Panama. Students derive their own research hypotheses regarding ant foraging or allometric scaling relationships.


This module was created as a way to give students a realistic, open-inquiry research experience, even when lab or field research is not possible. Students are introduced to leaf-cutter ants and how they forage, provided with images and videos, and are asked to develop a hypothesis, plan a study, collect real primary data, and analyze the data. Minimally the experience can take a couple of hours of class time and some report writing as homework. On the other end, full research papers or posters could be the product of a more rigorous research experience.

Potential Learning Objectives:


  • Students will be able to generate meaningful scientific hypotheses given a context for study.
  • Students will use image analysis software to generate data from an image set.
  • Students will be able to conduct and interpret linear regression analyses (including R2, p-values, hypothesis testing, slopes/y-intercepts), given data they've collected.
  • Students will write a results section in typical scientific literature format.


  • Students will be able to construct and interpret frequency histograms.
  • Students will apply programming concepts to automate a series of procedures.
  • Students will be able to conduct appropriate statistical analysis for a categorical independent and numerical dependent variable.

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