Eli Sarnat and Evan Economo have a beautiful new paper out on the Ants of Fiji. It’s open-access, too:

Plate 105 from Sarnat & Economo 2012, just one of many clean, clear illustrations.

This study is not the first to cover the myrmecofauna of the Fijian islands. Worth reading, for contrast, is William M. Mann’s 1921 classic paper on the same topic:


In particular, notice that the 1921 paper is full of new species descriptions, while the newer monograph refrains from describing a single new ant. It’s tempting to think the earlier work cleared most of the descriptions out of the way, accounting for the difference. But chronology is not it at all. Sarnat & Economo include a stack of undescribed ants (see the Poecilomyrmex, for example), so they had ample opportunity to follow Mann’s lead.

Instead, this modern taxonomic caution has become the norm. It’s a cultural change in the intervening 90 years as taxonomists adopted the Darwinian synthesis. Biologists as a group are more focused on underlying evolutionary processes, rather than simply describing observed diversity.

Increasingly, taxonomists leave descriptions of new species to more detailed studies of particular lineages on a global scale, often in conjunction with a phylogeny. Thus, species are described in global monographs focused on particular genera or species groups. We see new species in revisions of the Ants of Genus X, rather than in papers on the Ants of Region Y.

source: Sarnat, E.M. & Economo, E.P. (2012) Ants of Fiji. University of California Publications in Entomology, 132, 1-398. [pdf]