Anyone who has spent time in the tropics knows that the diversity of species found there is astounding and the abundance and diversity of ants, in particular, is unparalleled.
The scientists used DNA sequence data to build the largest ant tree-of-life to date. This tree-of-life, or family tree of ants, not only allowed them to better understand which ant species are related, but also made it possible to infer the age for modern ants because information from the fossil record in the form of geologic time was included in the research.
This ant tree-of-life confirmed an earlier surprising finding that two groups of pale, eyeless, subterranean ants, which are unlike most typical ants, are the earliest living ancestors of the modern ants. The time calibrated ant tree-of-life showed that the ants found on the planet today can trace their evolutionary origins back to between 139 and158 million years ago – during the time the dinosaurs walked the Earth (a finding in line with previous studies).
But why are there more species of ants in the tropics? To explain this pattern of higher species diversity for many tropical organisms, biologists have used the analogies of the tropics acting as a "museum" or "cradle" for speciation. In the case of the museum analogy, the tropical climates have more species because this is where the oldest groups persist throughout evolutionary time. The converse of this explanation is that the tropics are a cradle where new species are more likely to be generated.
To better understand where on the planet the ants arose and if any single geographic area was more important for their evolutionary origins, Moreau and Bell reconstructed the biogeographic history of the ants. These analyses found that the Neotropics of South America were vital to the deep and continued evolutionary origin of the ants. This finding suggests that for the ants the rainforests of the Neotropics are both a museum, protecting many of the oldest ant groups, and also a cradle that continues to generate new species.
As ants are one of the most ecologically important groups of terrestrial organisms, these findings suggest that protecting the rainforests of the Neotropics are vital to the health and success of both the ants that live in them and all the other animals, plants, fungi, and microbes worldwide that rely on ants to survive.
Interviews and images available upon request.
Nancy O'Shea | EurekAlert!
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The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet
22.09.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie
Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.
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Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.
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Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!
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For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.
Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...
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