You may be familiar with the California Academy of Science’s extremely popular Ant Course, which offers intensive taxonomic training in a once-a-year workshop held at an exotic locale. Ant Course is fantastic, with all its taxonomicky taxonomy and systematicky systematics. What if your anty interests, however, tend more to ecology and behavior?
A new course is being offered this summer just for you:
Ants of the Southwest
21-31 August, 2012
The American Southwest is a hotspot for North American ant diversity, with over 350 species of ants known from Arizona, and a variety of ecologically interesting taxa – including leafcutters, harvester ants, army ants, and honeypot ants. In this 10-night course, participants will gain knowledge of the outstanding diversity, ecology, and behavior of southwestern ants. This course is designed with curriculum that complements rather than competes with the California Academy of Sciences Ant Course, which is also held at the SWRS once every three years and focuses heavily on the taxonomy and systematics of ants. Although this course also covers basic taxonomy and systematics, its major focus will be on the ecology and behavior of ants.
The course will include lectures, field trips, field experiments, and labs. Participants will obtain hands-on experience in experimental techniques with both field and captive ant colonies. The course will also cover current topics in ant behavior and ecology research. Students will leave the course with a small collection they create, and may have the opportunity to set up a captive laboratory colony.
If you follow myrmecology on the internet, you probably know about Benoit Guenard’s Global Ants database. Benoit has spent years combing disparate biological literature and natural history collections to compile a comprehensive map of where all the 300-some ant genera are known to live. This information is useful in its own right (want to know which ants live in that tropical vacation destination?) but the database is more powerful that that. It can be used to make predictions about where in the world we are most and least likely to make new genus & species records.
Top: the number of ant genera recorded from various political divisions (darker=more). Bottom: model predictions of undercollected regions (yellow & blue are different models; black is where both models agree). Modified from Figures 1 & 3 in Guenard et al 2012.
In a clever paper out this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Benoit and his colleagues Michael Weiser and Rob Dunn apply a pair of mathematical models to the database to locate spots on the map with far fewer known ant genera than their location might predict. Because ant researchers have tended to work more in particular countries and less in others, what this project has effectively done is pinpoint the under-studied corners of the globe. Places where even common ants have gone uncollected.
Off to Cambodia it is, then.
source: Guenard, B. et al 2012. Global models of ant diversity suggest regions where new discoveries are most likely are under disproportionate deforestation threat. PNAS published online before print doi:10.1073/pnas.1113867109.