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Stimulus-funded ant research bugs senators

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The six-legged insects that plague summer picnics and infest kitchen surfaces may be important to the ecosystem, but studying them with federal funds is being called a waste of taxpayer money.

Scientists at San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences were awarded $1.9 million in stimulus money to research the effects of habitat loss, climate change and pollution on ant populations in East Africa.

According to Academy of Sciences officials, when ants move soil they increase drainage, aerate it and add nutrients, along with encourage development and vegetation of dispersed seeds.

“Without ants, many ecosystems would literally fall apart,” academy officials said in a statement.

But some federal legislators said the stimulus money was not being put to good use.

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The ant research was included in a list of 100 projects Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Tom Coburn,
R-Okla., identified as examples of wasted stimulus funding.

Other projects are $300,000 for researchers at the University of Arizona to create computer simulations to examine the formation of galaxies 2 billion years after the Big Bang.

Oklahoma made the list with a $90,000 effort to replace sidewalks in the small town of Boynton.

Projects were included from Utah, South Carolina and New York, among a half-dozen other states. In all, 14 projects from California were named.

Also appearing on the list was San Francisco-based nonprofit Pacific Environment.

The organization was awarded nearly $200,000 to assist indigenous Siberian communities in engaging Russian policymakers.

According to the National Science Foundation, the Pacific environment will help populations in high altitudes and latitudes in Siberia, Russia, bridge the gap and understanding of these indigenous homelands when Russian lawmakers look to make or change policies in the region. And the organization will map ecological and cultural environments in the area.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

Ant facts

  • 30,000 Species worldwide
  • $1.9 million Stimulus funds to study insect
  • 16 Jobs created at California Academy of Sciences from federal funding
  • 30 percent Biomass in any ecosystem that’s made up of ants

Source: California Academy of Sciences



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