Posts Tagged: Phil Ward
Who would have thought?
Who would have thought that ants are more closely related to bees than they are to most wasps?
In ground-breaking research to be published Oct. 21 in Current Biology, a team of UC Davis scientists and a colleague from the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, American Museum of Natural History, has found that ants and bees are more genetically related to each other than they are to social wasps such as yellow jackets and paper wasps.
"Despite great interest in the ecology and behavior of these insects, their evolutionary relationships have never been fully clarified," said senior author and noted ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology at UC Davis. "In particular, it has been uncertain how ants—the world’s most successful social insects—are related to bees and wasps. We were able to resolve this question by employing next-generation sequencing technology and advances in bioinformatics. This phylogeny, or evolutionary tree, provides a new framework for understanding the evolution of nesting, feeding and social behavior in Hymenoptera."
The researchers used state-of-the-art genome sequencing and bioinformatics to produce this significant research.
The six-member team: Ward; molecular geneticist and assistant professor Joanna Chiu; honey bee scientist and assistant professor Brian Johnson; doctoral student-researcher Marek Borowiec of the Ward lab; and postdoctoral researcher Joel Atallah of the Johnson lab, all with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology; and visiting scientist Ernest K. Lee of the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics, American Museum of Natural History.
Ants, bees and stinging wasps all belong to the aculeate (stinging) Hymenoptera clade -- the group in which social behavior is most extensively developed.
Said Chiu: “With a phylogeny or evolutionary progression that we think is reliable and robust, we can now start to understand how various morphological and/or behavioral traits evolved in these groups of insects, and even examine the genetic basis of these phenotypic changes.”
Said Johnson, whose lab studies the genetics, behavior, evolution and health of honey bees: "Using transcriptomics we were able to resolve a long standing question regarding the evolutionary relationships between stinging wasps, ants, and bees. We found that ants and bees are more closely related than previously thought. This result should be important for future studies focused on eusocial evolution, as it suggests that morphology may not be a good indicator of evolutionary relatedness in these groups of organisms."
The abstract: "Eusocial behavior has arisen in few animal groups, most notably in the aculeate Hymenoptera, a clade comprising ants, bees, and stinging wasps. Phylogeny is crucial to understanding the evolution of the salient features of these insects, including eusociality. Yet the phylogenetic relationships among the major lineages of aculeate Hymenoptera remain contentious. We address this problem here by generating and analyzing genomic data for a representative series of taxa. We obtain a single well-resolved and strongly supported tree, robust to multiple methods of phylogenetic inference. Apoidea (spheciform wasps and bees) and ants are sister groups, a novel finding that contradicts earlier views that ants are closer to ectoparasitoid wasps. Vespid wasps (paper wasps, yellow jackets, and relatives) are sister to all other aculeates except chrysidoids. Thus, all eusocial species of Hymenoptera are contained within two major groups, characterized by transport of larval provisions and nest construction, likely prerequisites for the evolution of eusociality. These two lineages are interpolated among three other clades of wasps whose species are predominantly ectoparasitoids on concealed hosts, the inferred ancestral condition for aculeates. This phylogeny provides a new framework for exploring the evolution of nesting, feeding, and social behavior within the stinging Hymenoptera."
A bee and an ant; they're more closely related than they are to most wasps. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ants and bees are more genetically related to each other than they are to social wasps, such as this yellow jacket. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees love it.
We watched a honey bee foraging on lavender blossoms last weekend, when an ant appeared on the scene. The ant? A worker of Liometopum occidentale (velvety tree ant), according to ant specialist Phil Ward, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis.
If you don't know much about ants, but have always admired them, then "Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants," is for you.
It's the collaborative work of two entomologists: biologist/science writer Eleanor Spicer Rice, who received her doctorate in entomology from North Carolina State University, and biologist/insect photographer Alex Wild, who received his doctorate in entomology from UC Davis, studying with Ward.
In a recent Myrmecos blog, Wild describes the book as "an entry-level ebook written for the general naturalist curious about ants. Dr. Eleanor recounts stories of the most common species seen in the southeastern United States, interspersed with photographs from my galleries."
"It’s the kind of book you give to the young naturalist who wonders about the ants on the sidewalk," Wild says, "or perhaps to that grumpy uncle who never quite seems to get what it is you are doing in graduate school studying the little creatures."
And, guess what? The Dr. Eleanor/Dr. Alex book is free to download. One way to receive it is to access the Myrmecos blog and click on the I-Tunes and/or PDF links.
Rice relates that she's always been fascinated by ants. So is Andrea Lucky, who, like Wild, received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis with Phil Ward. Lucky heads the widely acclaimed citizen-scientist project, "The School of Ants." (The School of Ants project is based in the Lucky lab at the University of Florida's Department of Entomology and Nematology and the lab of Rob Dunn in Biology at North Carolina State University. (Email them at email@example.com if you want to know more.)
But back to "Dr. Eleanor's Book of Common Ants." It's fascinating. It's riveting. It's superb. The easy-to-read text and the amazing photos draw you in. You can literally feel the excitement, enthusiasm and passion when Dr. Eleanor asks "What's the big deal about ants?"
"We might not notice them, but ants surround us, occupying nearly every type of habitable nook and cranny across the glove," she writes. "Right now, ants snuggle up to your house, lay out their doormats in front of the trees in your yard, and snooze under your park benches. Some even nest inside the acorns littering the ground."
"We might not notice them, but they're there, and they shape, literally shape, our world," she points out.
And if you look closely in your own back yard, you just might see an ant and a bee sharing a lavender blossom.
A honey bee encounters a velvety tree ant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Velvety tree ant touches the antennae of a honey bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What do butterflies tell us about tropical diversity?
Take it from an expert.
Tropical ecologist Philip DeVries of the Department of Biological Sciences, University of New Orleans, will discuss the topic at his lecture on Thursday, Feb. 9 at the University of California, Davis.
His presentation, sponsored by the College of Biological Sciences' Storer Life Sciences Endowment, is at 4:10 p.m. in 2 Wellman Hall. Professor Phil Ward of the UC Davis Department of Entomology is his host.
Free and open to all interested persons, the lecture is sparking a lot of interest, and rightfully so.
DeVries focuses his research on insect ecology and evolution, especially butterflies. A native of Detroit, Mich., he received his doctorate in zoology from the University of Texas, Austin, in 1987.
Highly honored, DeVries has received fellowships from the MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim and Dodge foundations, and the Smithsonian Institute. He is not only a noted researcher and ecologist, but a writer, scientific adviser and photographer.
If you listen to his piece on YouTube (uploaded in 2008), you can see, hear and feel the excitement in his voice as the long-tongued hawk moth, Morgan's Sphinx (Xanthopan morgani) pollinates Darwin's orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) one night in a Madagascar rain forest. Truly amazing!
Background of the moth and orchid: Naturalist Charles Darwin examined the orchid in 1862 and famously predicted in his book Fertilisation of Orchids that there must be in existence a moth with a long-enough tongue (proboscis) to be able to pollinate it. The orchid's "nectar spur" measures about 12 to 14 inches long. The moth itself was discovered in Madagascar in 1903--correctly proving Darwin's prediction of its existence-- but no one saw it pollinate the orchid until DeVries headed out to the rain forest with his camera equipment. Since pollination occurs only at night, DeVries used infrared light (invisible to the moth) to capture the scene.
Jerry A. Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, blogged about the spectacular video in "Why Evolution Is True."
"The video," Coyne wrote, "was made in Madagascar by a friend of mine, Phil DeVries from the University of New Orleans, a remarkable—and, as you’ll see, intrepid—naturalist, and author of the two-volume Butterflies of Costa Rica and their Natural History."
"It’s really lovely to see how excited Phil gets when he finally sees the pollination," wrote Coyne. "Those are the juicy moments that every naturalist lives for."
Yes, indeed! It's something you never expect to see--and hope to see again.
Morpho butterfly, a genus that Phil DeVries studies. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Phil DeVries with a Morpho (genus) butterfly. (Photo by Carla Penz)
Of course you do.
But probably not as much as Andrea Lucky, the "Queen of Ants."
(Or as much as Phil Ward, her major professor at UC Davis or Alex Wild, the Illinois-based biologist and insect photographer who also studied with Ward. Both Lucky and received their doctorates in entomology from UC Davis.)
It's a citizen-scientist driven study of the ants that live in urban areas, particularly around homes and schools, Lucky says.
Anyone can participate: teachers, students, parents, junior scientists and just plain (and fancy) ant enthusiasts.
The project involves collecting ants in backyards and schoolyards "using a standardized protocol so that we can make detailed maps of the wild life that lives just outside (or even in) our doorsteps," Lucky says. The data-rich maps "will tell us a lot about native and introduced ants in cities, not just here in North Carolina, but across the United States and, as this project grows, the world!"
Many folks, Lucky says, have asked her about contributing to the project, so there's now a SciFund Challenge and donations are being accepted. "Our fundraising campaign has just six days left," she says, "but of course the project goes on past that deadline."
And the spectacular ant photos on School of Ants website were generously provided by...drum roll...Alex Wild.
Between the photos and the text, there's a wealth of information about ants on the site.
All in all, it's good to see citizen scientists monitoring ants. Ants don't share the same PR image as ladybugs, butterflies and native bees, also tracked by citizen scientists.
One, two, three, all together now, can you say "Myrmecologists"?
Close-up of aphids and ants at the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at UC Davis. This is a Formica moki, a native ant. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
(A) Ants, (B) Bonnie Blaimer and (C) Crematogaster.
Add a double "M" and you have a myrmecologist studying ants in Madagascar.
Bonnie Blaimer, a graduate student in entomology at the University of California, Davis, just received a National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Grant for $13,794 to help support her doctoral dissertation research on the systematic and evolution of Malagasy ants of the genus Crematogaster in Madagascar.
Blaimer, who studies with major professor Phil Ward, a noted ant specialist, describes Crematogaster ants as "a species-rich, world-wide occurring group of ants with a notoriously difficult species-level taxonomy."
Why these ants? Blaimer said she first became interested in them when she was doing field work in Madagascar as an intern for the Cal Academy of Sciences.
“This genus fascinates me particularly because of its species diversity and dominance in tropical forests, and its intriguing natural history,” she said. “Most species are canopy-nesting in dead twigs and branches or under bark, or they make elaborate independent carton-nest from wood fibers. Some species are suspected to be temporary social parasites, and many tend scale insects or mealybugs. In short, many different aspects remain still open for investigation beyond my dissertation work!”
Blaimer, who holds a master’s degree in Forest Sciences from Albert-Ludwigs-University in Freiburg, Germany, says she will mostly use the NSF funds to perform DNA sequencing of the Malagasy species and also a variety of species from other biogeographical regions.
"This enables me to investigate and revise species boundaries within Crematogaster in Madagascar, and to establish a framework phylogeny for the genus upon which I can explore the evolution of the genus in the Malagasy region. A smaller portion of the grant will further allow me to travel to Madagascar to do some outreach and education work.”
Blaimer is the co-principal investigator of the grant, titled "Aligning Ant Diversity with Conservation Priorities in a Biodiversity Hotspot: Systematics and Biogeography of the Arboreal Ant Crematogaster in Madagascar." Her major professor serves as the principal investigator.
Be sure to check out the Phil Ward lab website.
Ward welcomes visitors with:
"We are a group of myrmecologists who study the taxonomy, evolution, biogeography and behavior of ants.
"In many terrestrial habitats – especially those of the lowland tropics – ants rival other arthropods in numerical abundance, ecological importance and species richness. Our research is concerned with unraveling details about the evolutionary history of ants and attempting to understand the processes that have generated such an extraordinary diversity of form and function. This work entails both species-level taxonomy and analyses of phylogenetic relationships.
"Visit our research pages to learn more about current projects."
And for amazing photos of ants, check out the websites of University of Illinois biologist-insect photographer Alex Wild, former graduate student of Phil Ward's. Wild maintains http://myrmecos.net/ and http://www.alexanderwild.com/.