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.