140817 - on way to 1300m


I am a molecular ecologist, based at the University of Guelph in Ontario Canada.  I am interested in tracking how ACG ant communities change here with elevation, temperature and time.  I have been following this across three volcanoes in Guanacaste Province (Cacao, Rincon de la Vieja and Orosi) since 2008.  My intent is to continue this monitoring for the long term.

Each time I head into the field, to the ACG or to other locations around the world, I post collections of thoughts, photos and videos to a dedicated internet site. All those sites are collected together here.

I Tweet from the field when there's wifi - @Alex_Smith_Ants and upload all my ant videos from the field to my YouTube channel.

In addition to work in Costa Rica, we also work in numerous parts of Canada and the tropics:

To learn more about the projects, view early results, see high-resolution panoramic photographs (GigaPans) of habitat, see microscopic view videos many tiny insects in their natural habitat visit the sites above!

140820 - Cacao 1500m


The ACG, is a 165,000 hectare national park in northwestern Costa Rica. It extends from 6 km out in the Pacific to 2,000 m at the top Volcan Rincon de la Vieja and down into the Atlantic lowland rain forest.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ACG is home to more than 325,000 species of plants and animals (2.6% of the world's biodiversity) and has grown dramatically from a 10K acre national park (formalised in 1971) to a global example of tropical biodiversity conservation, dependent upon, and inserted within, the development and economy of the local people.  If you are interested in more information on the ACG, please visit the Guanacaste Dry Forest Fund website. At the bottom of that page you'll find a button to donate to the ACG.  "Every penny donated to GDFCF goes to forest purchase to expand ACG" - a very worthwhile investment! 

Recent Publications:

Smith, M. A., Hallwachs, W. and Janzen, D. H. (2014) Diversity and phylogenetic community structure of ants along a Costa Rican elevational gradient. Ecography 37: 720–731. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0587.2013.00631.x

For anyone interested in finding out more about numerous ongoing projects in the ACG, check out the blog at the Investigadores ACG website. Actual weather conditions in Santa Rosa are here.

ACG genus-level ant ID poster

ACG ants - August 2014

I use a standardized collection protocol to help me understand the ant species diversity at each locality.  The ants I collect are databased, mounted, photographed and DNA barcoded in an attempt to measure community change with elevation, with volcano and with time.  "Time" is particularly important, as the peaks of the volcanoes are drier and warmer than they have been - and I am very interested in documenting and testing who is arriving and what happens upon these arrivals! 

Beginning in December 2012, I have been monitoring temperature and precipitation at each of the principal elevations where I sample on Volcan Cacao using ONSET DATA LOGGING RAIN GAUGES (RG3-M).  There are now eight gauges from Naranjo (sea level) to the top of Cacao (1,500m).

121201 - Cacao Arenales Malaise trap and new precip/temp monitor
121209 - last three days of temp data from Cacao
Preciptation at Cacao sites (three days)

Hiking the ant barrel

130923 - Davis Sifting - Volcan Rincon de la Vieja

Cold weather sampling Costa Rica, ACG, Volcan Cacao, Cima del Volcan

At each site I record the habitat using a GigaPan robot. Since 2008, I've been part of the Fine Fellows group testing and experimenting with uses of the GigaPan. This remarkable piece of equipment consists of three technological developments: 1) A robotic camera mount for capturing very high-resolution (gigapixel and up) panoramic images using a standard digital camera; 2) Custom software for constructing very high-resolution gigapixel panoramas; and 3) A new type of website for exploring, sharing and commenting on gigapixel panoramas and the detail users will discover within them. On this site I've embedded GigaPans from each locality.  Their names link to the full view of each panorama at the GigaPan website, and there are also links to the panorama displayed on a proper sphere using the GoogleEarth browser plug-in.  Here is a gallery of more than 100 high-resolution GigaPans from within the ACG - from sea level to 1,500m!

Here's an example from 1,500 in the cloud forest of Volcan Cacao.
Since testing out the DinoLite AMK4012-C200 digital field microscope in 2010 it has become a necessary part of my field gear.  I continue to be charmed and amazed at what this tool adds to my field work.  With each collection trip, I move the results directly to You-Tube.  Have a look at the playlist of ACG videos here.!

Check out each the field notes and thoughts for each day's entry on the Journal/Blog sidebar at the top of this page for GigaPans, videos and more!

My work in the ACG is funded by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and a Leaders Opportunity Fund from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI).

Are you looking for a graduate work? Please visit my webpage for contact information if this work looks like something you could also be passionate about. You can see my previous papers on Google Scholar. Information regarding the University of Guelph's graduate program can be found here.