June 13, 2013

Ant protection of acacia trees from elephants….

Waking up to the whistling sound of the river flowing and the singing of the birds, is a good way to start the day.  “Every time an antelope wakes up, it knows that it has to be faster than the lion so that it wont be eaten, and when the lion wakes up it has to run faster than the antelope so that it doesn’t have to die of starvation” …Beryl gave the refreshing morning reflection with this quote, while Leah 
described to us the species for the day …the cheetah. 
Its great to listen to people’s ideas about mutualistic relationships of an ant and tree because they think its not possible and would probably be parasitic or saprophytic ….its however true that the two can live in harmony.

To attest to that we went to the KLEE Burns, Mpala Research field in Laikipia Kenya where we collected data on their density in the randomly sampled trees. Its important to note that the ants defend the tree from being browsed by animals and in return the tree, Acacia drepanolobium, provides food and shelter to the ant. Picking them is not an easy job because their bite is equally painfully…so the most funny yet important thing we did was to tape the holes in the gall shut and than cut them for later counting of the ants.  We correlated the density of ants to the diameter and the height of the tree and the number of live and dead galls.

Its however amazing to watch guys training to climb trees incase of a buffalo attack  …was funny how they kept on falling back because of not being able to balance their weights.
 After lunch (fruity rice, mbaazi, Thailand cabbage salad and fruits) we counted the ants in the galls. They were still much alive and one needed to be careful when counting them. Its amazing and amusing how a gall can have many ants while another doesn’t have. Worth to mention is the 10-30 minutes over lunch for checking the emails . It sort of brings closer-home-effect.

Late afternoon we had our usual discussion, today’s was on mutualist relationship of the ants and trees. 
There can be football for as few people as three and what they do most is run much from one side of the field to the other. Its quite fun to watch though.  For the ladies, led by Mandy they keep fit by running.  
By the fire at night is where everyone wants to be. Storytelling, laughter and recounts of the good bits of the day.  The fire sums up the beautiful things of the day and takes away the fears and failures of the day.  – Hannah Kamau, Junior Range Science Major, University of Nairobi

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