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!
Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein
24.01.2017 | Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY
Choreographing the microRNA-target dance
24.01.2017 | UT Southwestern Medical Center
A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...
For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.
According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.01.2017 | Life Sciences
24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine