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Student Wins NSF Travel Award in National Competition

Angel Gray, a senior psychology major at Spelman College, works in the lab of Dr. Duane Jackson as the Head Undergraduate Lab Assistant. Angel was chosen, in a national competition, to receive a travel award from the National Science Foundation to participate in the Charles Turner Program at the 2013 Animal Behavior Society meeting at the University of Colorado in Boulder July 28 - August 1. She presented a poster on termite aggression entitled "Behavioral Interactions Between Termites and Fire Ants that are Restrained or Free Moving."

Angel GrayWhile reflecting on her experience at the conference, Angel indicated that "being at the conference was a wonderful experience because it not only allowed me to present my research, but it also allowed me to network with other students and professors interested in studying animal behavior. Additionally, being a part of the Charles Turner Program was by far one of my most rewarding experiences. During our sessions, we attended informational sessions and hands-on workshops, and we critiqued one another's poster presentations. Since we all came from such different backgrounds, I was exposed to the various ways other researchers interpreted my research while gaining new ideas on how to conduct future studies. The Charles Turner Program was more than just a group of students working together, it was truly a family, and I still stay in close contact with the other students who participated in this program. I would like to thank the National Science Foundation and the Animal Behavior Society Diversity Committee for allowing me to attend such an amazing conference that emphasized its goal to increase the diversity of its membership by encouraging researchers of all ages, levels, and ethnic groups to participate in the annual conference."

Research Synopsis: Aggression on subterranean termite (Reticulitermes sp.) workers is a topic in which research is limited. To determine behavioral interactions between subterranean termites and fire ants (Solenopsis invicta) that are restrained or free moving, we analyzed the behaviors of termites by developing behavioral measure to quantify aggression at the colony level. To conduct this research, an experimental group and controlled group were tested simultaneously. For each test, ten worker termites with or without solider termites were placed in an arena for 15 minutes with one or two restrained or non-restrained living (experimental) or dead (control) fire ants. The behavioral interactions recorded were termites contacting, biting, ramming and latching onto fire ants. We also recorded the number of times termites exhibited rapid oscillatory vibration (ROV) and the number of dead and immobile termites and ants. Our independent variables were presence of a termite solider, termite colony, number of ants and mobility of ants. We also hypothesized that the presence of a fire ant would affect the aggression level of the worker termites, which is operationally defined as biting and latching against and among the termites. We tested our hypotheses by placing the termites and the ants in Petri dishes inside of an environmental chamber. Our preliminary results suggested that termites are more aggressive when placed into an arena with free moving fire ants.

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