Research Project | 2023

Assessing the determinants of collective behavior of seed dispersing ants at the UC Sedgwick natural reserve


Awardee: Sean O’Fallon

Bio: Sean O’Fallon is a Ph.D. student in the Pinter-Wollman lab at UCLA. His research focuses on
the collective behavior of ant colonies, focusing on the factors that determine behavioral
variation within populations and the relationship between ant nest architecture and collective
behavior. His previous projects have investigated the factors that determine the development of
nest structures in harvester ants and the evolutionary history of nest architecture across ground-
nesting ant species. He aims to understand how collective behavior is shaped by environmental,
spatial, and system-specific properties in animal groups, and how collective outcomes impact

Project Description:
Veromessor andrei harvester ants are important predators and dispersers of seeds in California’s
grassland ecosystems. Many of the mechanisms underlying collective foraging behavior in
harvester ants have previously been described, but the sources of behavioral variation among
colonies is still unknown. Through observations and experimental manipulations in the field at
Sedgwick Natural Reserve, this project will identify the extent to which intrinsic and
environmental factors contribute to variation in foraging behavior. Understanding the factors that
drive collective behavior in harvester ant foraging will inform our understanding of how climate
change and other anthropogenic effects will impact California’s ecosystems.