Posts Tagged: ants
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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)
"Ants are the most successful group of social insects on the Earth," says Branstetter, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. and a UC DAvis alumnus. "They occur in almost all terrestrial habitats and are often numerically dominant and ecologically important. Furthermore, ants are diverse. There are likely to be more than 20,000 species worldwide and among these species there is a staggering amount of morphological and behavioral variation."
"It's not just the red ant and black ant. Some species are predatory and have large trap-jaw mandibles. Some are farmers, growing fungus gardens inside their nests. Some are parasites of other ant species, living in host nests and taking advantage of a tricked worker force. And some have huge migrating colonies that go on massive raids to collect food. The list goes on..."
Branstetter is also intrigued by the diversity and is devoted to discovering and describing species and behaviors. "Most of my work focuses on using morphology and genetic data to determine what species are, but I also spend lots of time in the field making direct observations about behavior and ecology."
Branstetter, who received his doctorate in entomology in June 2012 from UC Davis (major professor Phil Ward), will speak on ”Uncovering the Origins of a Middle American Ant Radiation: Insights from Natural History, Biogeography and Molecular Data” from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 16 in Room 1022 of the Life Sciences Addition, corner of Hutchison and Kleiber Hall drive. His seminar will double as his exit seminar.
Born in Toledo, Ohio, Branstetter grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich. "It was not until I entered college at The Evergreen State College in Washington state that I became interested in science and eventually entomology," he says. His passion for entomology ignited in a class on "Insects and Plants of Washington" taught by Jack Longino.
That prompted Branstetter to specialize in myrmecology, the scientific study of ants.
He was hooked. Next: Graduate school at UC Davis.
The ants (genus Stenamma) that Branstetter studies are "special because they are an example of a group that originated in the temperate zone and later dispersed into the tropics. Within the tropics they have radiated in mid- to high-elevation wet forests, sometimes becoming the most dominant ant. This is in contrast to most other ants, which usually peak in diversity and abundance in the lowlands."
"It is my hope that studying Stenamma diversity and ecology will yield insights into the factors that have helped ants become so successful," Branstetter says. "Also, the genus has many undescribed species in Middle America. Describing these species and making identification keys will allow others, such as ecologists or conservation biologists, to identify them in their work. Of particular importance are the montane species, which may be in danger of extinction due to climate change."
If you miss Branstetter's seminar, not to worry. It will be recorded for later viewing on UCTV.
Michael Branstetter at Reserva Nacional Kahka Creek, Nicaragua. He is in the process of doing a transect of mini Winkler samples. (Photo by Laura Sáenz)
Michael Branstetter with a Winkler hanging structure, which was constructed in the forest by his guide using only a machete. (Photo by Laura Sáenz)
But they're much more than that. Much more.
Ant specialist Brian Fisher, an entomologist with the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, describes ants as "industrious, tenacious workers who live in colonies and obey a hierarchy of rulers."
And they're also massive.
“Consider that the collective weight of all the ants in the world is equal to the weight of all the world's humans," Fisher says. "It's a big subject with a big impact. That alone makes ants worthy of scientific study.”
Fisher, associate curator of entomology at the California Academy of Sciences and an adjunct professor of biology at both the University of California, Berkeley and San Francisco State University, will deliver the 2011 Thomas and Nina Leigh Distinguished Alumni Seminar, UC Davis Department of Entomology.
Fisher, who just returned from a collecting trip in Madagascar, will speak on “How Many Ants Can an Island Hold? Exploring Ant Diversity in Madagascar" from 6:15 to 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 9 in the Recreation Pool Lodge on La Rue Road, UC Davis. The lecture is free and open to the public.
He'll be honored at a reception set from 5 to 6 p.m. in the Rec Pool Lodge.
Fisher received his doctorate degree in entomology from UC Davis in 1997, studying with major professor Phil Ward.
Often found hip-deep in Madagascar mud, Fisher is a self-described modern day explorer who has devoted his life to the study and conservation of ants and biodiversity around the world. His research sends him through the last remote rainforests and deserts of Madagascar and Africa in search of ants. Although his subjects may be small in stature, they make a huge impact on their ecosystems.
By documenting the species diversity and distribution of this “invisible majority,” Fisher says he's helping to establish conservation priorities for Madagascar, identifying areas that should be set aside to protect the highest number of species. Along the way, he has discovered hundreds of new species of ants. He has published more than 75 peer reviewed articles including Ants of North America with Stefan Cover.
Every year, Fisher trains dozens of international graduate students in the taxonomy and natural history of ants, providing them with skills to use ants as an important indicator of biodiversity across the globe. He has appeared in a number of BBC, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic films and has been profiled in Newsweek and Discover magazines.
So, for the last 23 years, Brian Fisher has traveled the globe finding, collecting, identifying and naming ants, describing their behaviors, and cataloguing their traits. Of the estimated 22,000 ant species known to science, Fisher has personally discovered 1000 species.
Born in Normal, Ill., the son of a college professor and a fifth grade teacher, Brian Fisher always knew he wanted to work outdoors. But for awhile, he didn't know what. The day after his high school graduation, he caught a flight to Europe and spent two years bicycling the continent, learning French and carpentry before returning home.
Once he returned to the states, he enrolled at the University of Iowa, majoring in biology. “But I was itching to get to Latin America, learn Spanish and live the dream of a tropical plant collector,” he remembers. It was during a year in Panama that he worked part-time for the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. He also worked as an aspiring botanist, collecting specimens of tropical flora.
It was during his stay in Panama that the love bug bit. Ants!
“You go to the tropics and the sheer diversity of insects are literally raining down on you,” Fisher says. “At that point, I decided to switch from being a great botanical explorer to becoming an ant finder.”
The Nov. 9th UC Davis seminar memorializes cotton entomologist Thomas Frances Leigh (1923-1993), an international authority on the biology, ecology and management of arthropod pests affecting cotton production. During his 37-year UC Davis career, he was based at the Shafter Research and Extension Center, also known as the U.S. Cotton Research Station. He researched pest and beneficial arthropod management in cotton fields, and host plant resistance in cotton to insects, mites, nematodes and diseases.
And we're sure Tom Leigh encountered a number of ants along the way, but not as many nor as diverse as Brian Fisher has.
Ants crawl along a vine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Unlike the Saints, the ants won't "go marching in"; they'll be "marching on."
The "Ants Go Marching On” will set the theme for the Bohart Museum of Entomology's open house from 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday, March 13 at 1124 Academic Surge, California Drive, UC Davis campus.
There you can learn about ants from myrmecologists--those are the folks who study ants.
Admission is free.
Ant specialist and doctoral candidate Bonnie Blaimer of the Phil Ward lab will engage the visitors with a slide show of a collecting trip to Madagascar. She and fellow doctoral candidate Marek Borowiec, also of the Phil Ward lab, will be discussing characteristics of ants and answering questions.
The Bohart is home to more than seven million insects.
“The Hymenoptera (bees, ants and wasps) form about 30 percent of the Bohart collection,” said Tabatha Yang, education and outreach coordinator.
The Bohart Museum also has a live “petting zoo” that includes Madagascar hissing cockroaches and walking sticks; and a gift shop where visitors can purchase such items as t-shirts, sweat shirts, posters, jewelry and insect candy.
The R. M. Bohart Museum of Entomology, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, was founded in 1946 by noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart. Dedicated to teaching, research and service, it houses the seventh largest insect collection in North America.
The museum holds specimens collected worldwide and is the home of the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity of California’s deserts, mountains, coast and great central valley.
The museum’s regular hours are from 8:30 a.m. to noon and from 1 to 5 p.m., Monday through Thursday. It is closed on Fridays and on major holidays. More information is available on the Bohart website or by contacting Tabatha Yang at email@example.com or (530) 752-9464. Due to limited space, group tours will not be booked during the weekend hours.