A Window Into Ant Ecology in Urban Environments


Sammy Schofield

Sammy Schofield

By Jeanne Leong

The pace of city living is stressful for humans. But a bug’s life in an urban setting is no picnic, either.

In conducting research on ants and other insects in urban areas, Rutgers University‒Camden undergraduate student Sammy Schofield is collecting what she finds and taking them back to the lab for further examination, including some insects she’s never seen before, such as pink cotton candy-colored centipedes.

“It’s very interesting because a lot of people don’t think about the difference between ants that live in the city and ants that live in other areas,” says Schofield, of Princeton Junction. “There is a huge difference in how they survive because the amount of environmental stress is higher, and the diet is different, which really affects the species and the species interactions in cities.”

A centipede Schofield found at a site near the Rail Line

A centipede Schofield found at a site near the Rail Line

A senior majoring in biology, Schofield is working in the lab of Amy Savage, assistant professor of biology.

Schofield’s project examines how fine-scale habitat complexity affects the diversity of species of arthropods such as ants in high-stress environments. Schofield is monitoring the changing types and frequencies of arthropod species at stops along the NJ Transit River Line in Camden and Trenton. At each of eight locations, she observes one grassy section near a River Line stop in its natural state. Nearby, she lays down bricks in grassy areas to create a few patterns to observe what insects are attracted to the more complex patterns.

“I picked Camden because I go to school here but I think it’s a very good representation of a high-stress environment,” says Schofield. “There’s constantly people coming in and out and there is always trash everywhere so I think it’s a very good indicator of a broader city pattern.”

Since August, Schofield has been collecting insects from the locations. As the weather becomes colder, the next phase of the project takes her back indoors in the lab, where she’ll sort what she’s found and analyze data.

Schofield’s path to science research began when she arrived at Rutgers‒Camden in 2010, as an English major. After taking a required basic science course, she says, “It just blew my mind, I thought that it was so fascinating.”

Sammy Schofield

Sammy Schofield checking one of her research sites in Camden

However, after spending a couple of years on campus, she dropped out of school. “I was very unsure about what I wanted to do and what kind of career I was looking for, so I decided to leave school,” explains Schofield.

She worked as a barista for five years for a specialty coffee company in Philadelphia.

“It was a fun job but I got to the point where I was going to go further into that career path, or it was time to go back to school,” Schofield says. By then, she knew that she would major in biology and pursue opportunities to conduct research.

After returning to campus in the fall of 2016, she participated in the biology department’s research shadowing program. The experience interacting with Savage and graduate students in the lab convinced her to pursue research work.

“When I interviewed with Dr. Savage, we immediately clicked,” says Schofield. “It’s been absolutely a pleasure to work with her.”

Schofield, scheduled to graduate in the spring, is planning a career in research and possibly teaching. She hopes to pursue a Ph.D. in ecology.

Posted in: Research Highlights

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