Saturday, March 05, 2011

Conflicting Ant Meeting Schedules

Though the resources in ant taxonomy are globally used (eg, see clustermap, the organizers or ant conferences are not. In fact, this year the two major conferences on ants, the ANeT conference
and the Simpósio de Mirmecologica that attracts over 400 participants mananges to have their meetings almost exactly at the same dates 17-21 October and 16-20 October respectively. The meeting of the Oesterreichische Myrmekologentreffen, that has a very local target audience is another one this year.
It would make sense to alternate the conferences so that one could attend both, not least so that the global efforts could be coordinated.
Global efforts, collaboration? This is still a "Fremdwort" in the myrmecological world, where too many try compete to build the ultimate global ant information system, and most of them miss the resources to deliver nor do they have a plan for long time maintenance of their databases. Though this reflects to some extend the amateurish aspect of scholarly online communication, it is at the same time a tremendous waste of resources, and a lot is done by copy-paste of already existing material, such as pdfs, taxonomic lists, images.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Fungi making zombie ants

I was always puzzled by the fungis growing out of ants in the tropics, as well as Microcoelia parasitize ant and before they kill their pray alter their behavior so that it is to the benefit of the parasite. In the case of fungi the spores have to be disseminated, in the case of the Microcoelia the entire and has to be placed so that the next sheep will eat the ant whilst it is browsing.

The story in PLoS One reported in Wired magazine is not just cool and explains mechanisms, but it is in a geeks journal.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ant Meeting: Österreichisches Myrmekologentreffen

During this year, there will be several ant meetings which I will list once they are posted.
The first this year is the Österreichisches Myrmekologentreffen
Montag, 7. März 2011, 900 – 1700 Uhr
Fakultätszentrum für Biodiversität
Rennweg 14, 1030 Wien

It has the following program:
ab 9:00 Ankunft und Kaffee
10:00 Begrüßung Konrad Fiedler
10: 20 – 12:00 Myrmekologische Forschung in Österreich
und angrenzenden Regionen
10:20 ‐ 10:40 J. Chlumský, Veronika Jílková, P. Koutecký, M. Štech
Dispersal possibilities and adaptations for myrmecochory
in genus Melampyrum
10:40 ‐ 11:00 Melanie Tista
Preliminary results on macroecological patterns in European
ant communities
11:00 ‐ 11:20 Herbert Zettel, Daniela Magdalena Sorger
Schnappkiefer, Widerhaken, blaue Piraten und andere Merkwürdigkeiten –
die Philippinen, die Galápagos‐Inseln Asiens
11:20 ‐ 11:40 Line V. Ugelvig
Pathogen response in ant societies is influenced by geneticdiversity
11:40 ‐ 12:00 Veronika Jílkov, L. Matějíček, J. Frouz
Changes in the pH and other soil chemical parameters in soil
surrounding wood ant (Formica polyctena) nests
12:00 – 13:30 Mittagspause
13:30 – 13:50 Florian M. Steiner, Birgit C. Schlick‐Steiner, Herbert Zettel
Die Entwicklung der Myrmecological News (vormals
Myrmecologische Nachrichten) zu einem international
beachteten Fachjournal
13: 50 – 15:10 Heimische Ameisenfauna
13:50 ‐ 14:10 Florian Glaser
Gefährdung und Schutz ostalpiner Ameisen und die
Verantwortlichkeit Österreichs – ein Aus‐ und Überblick
14:10 ‐ 14:30 Herbert C. Wagner
Zum faunistischen Stand der Ameisen Südösterreichs
14:30 ‐ 14:50 Erich Zormann
Artenvielfalt von Ameisen im Wienerwald
14:50 ‐ 15:10 Johann Ambach
Schwindende Vielfalt? – Eine Myrmekolologische
Bestandsaufnahme Oberösterreichs
15:10 ‐ 16:00 Kaffeepause
16:00 – 17:00 Heimische Ameisenfauna (Fortsetzung)
16:00 ‐ 16:20 Florian Glaser, Herbert C. Wagner
Die große Kerbameise (Formica exsecta) – Insekt des Jahres 2011
16:20 ‐ 16:40 Herbert C. Wagner
Ein neuer arboricoler Temnothorax für Österreich
16:40 ‐ 17:00 Melanie Tista
Sammelmethoden bei Ameisen – Ist eine Aufwandsreduktion möglich?

Please register before the end of Februrary 2011.
Mag. Melanie Tista, 01/4277‐57411

The meeting is organized by
Univ.‐Prof. Mag. Dr. Konrad Fiedler
Mag. Melanie Tista
Department für Biodiversität der Tiere
Universität Wien

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Overwintering of Ants

When I visited Genady Dlussky in Moscow in 1985, he told me about all the ecological research going on Magadan in the Fareast of the former Sowjet-Union. He explained the mechanisms ant use to survive up to -30degree C. Finally, 2010, a comprehensive publication Overwintering and Cold-hardiness of Ants in the Northeast of Asia is a comprehensive book
summing up 30 years of studies on the ecology and physiology of ants under extreme northern conditions, virtually at the northern boundaris of their geographical distribution.
It has lavish illustrations and an account for each species studied.

It is a very helpful summary and ought be a read well beyond ant ecologists: It covers another edge of the ants that is really amazing, and in fact a lot of the results, especially the physiology, might apply too other invertebrates living under these harsh conditions.

The book is available from Pensoft Publishers, Sofia.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Myrmica monograph

In the coming days a huge monograph "Myrmica ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of the Old World" will be published.

It is the first taxonomic review of the entire Old World fauna of the widespread temperate ant genus Myrmica that is famed for its interactions with many social parasites of high nature conservation interest, e.g. Large Blue butterflies (Phengaris spp.)
This about 800 pages monograph is more than a traditional taxonomic review, it gives the history of the taxonomic treatment of Myrmica, summarizes the current knowledge of the social biology and ecology of the genus, analyses the zoogeography of the various species and outlines the author’s views on the evolution and speciation within the genus.
The authors currently recognize 142 extant and 5 extinct species from the Old World and they provide Identification Keys to the species for each of seven geographic regions. This should make the Keys more user-friendly for non-specialists.
The locations of the type specimens are noted in the taxonomic catalogue, which is arranged alphabetically by species, as are the accurate line-drawings of every species. These illustrate features such as the shape and sculpture of the head and body, used in the identification keys. This arrangement makes it easy to find the data for any particular species.
There is a full list of all names ascribed to genus Myrmica and a table of synonyms from among the valid names is provided. The etymology of many of the names is interesting and provides insights to thoughts of the original authors as does the short biographies are made for all authors of more than one valid species of Myrmica.
The authors believe that there are many species of Myrmica yet to be discovered, particularly in the Indo-Oriental regions and in the southern mountains of Eurasia. This book provides the essential starting point for future studies.
Radchenko is one of Europe’s leading ant taxonomists and an expert on the ant fauna of the Palaearctic, while Elmes is an ecologist and eco-physiologist who has made a particular study of Myrmica ants over a 45 year career.

Both authors, Elmes and Radchenko have already extensively published on the subject, and it is very helpful to get all their widely scattered publications in one large monograph. In the old tradition of ant myrmecologists, the monograph is pretty costly and not open access and thus it will as such not be widely accessible. The challenge will be how to process 800 pages and make the descriptions online accessible at Plazi to share already available Myrmica treatments, and thus complete all the treatments for the Old World species in places like EOL or antweb.

The details of the publication are as follows:

Myrmica ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of the Old World
Alexander G. Radchenko and Graham W. Elmes
ca 800 pages, 332 figs, 162 maps; hardcover, 165 x 235 mm.

Editor: Natura optima dux Foundation, Warsaw, Poland
Issue data: December 2010

Price: 150 EUR + postage (after 31 January 2011)

Natura optima dux Foundation
Wilcza 64
00-679 Warszawa, Poland
fax 48 22 629 63 02

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Leaf cutter ants: the frenzy of publishing

If you like lavishly illustrated books on ants, you might want to consider Hölldobler and Wilson's latest oeuvre: The Leafcutter Ants: Civilization by Instinct. If you prefer those images moving - images that are even more impressive then you might want to get Thaler's movie Ameisen, die heimliche Weltmacht. One of the most impressive scene is the concrete mold of an entire attine nest in Southern Brazil. This book is an excerpt of a chapter on the authors book "The Superorganism: The Beauty, Elegance, and Strangeness of Insect Societies" that has been extended. Attines are at the very moment one of the most fascinating area in research well beyond ants that has generated a huge amount of insights, enabled mainly through DNA technologies that allows to study their fungi, their bacterias and other commensals living in this often huge system.
That it is hip is more than confirmed by the authors of the present book: Both of them are very eloquent writers but for my taste a bit too opportunistic by summing up ideas in a form, that are neither scientific nor popular in a general sense. The ideas presented get referenced in scientific writing later on, and not so much the original authors. This is a long history going back at least to the begin of the sociobiology debate and Bill Hamilton's genetic theory on social behavior.

A differnt kind of critique is in Mikheyev's review in Myrmecological News.
(...) a part of me wants the comprehensive fungus-gardener reference that will serve as the cornerstone of attine research, one that focuses on the cuttingedge discoveries and debates. But is it possible to write such a book today? Probably not, given the accelerating pace of research in this field, and the admittedly limited market niche. But perhaps books are no longer the best format for this sort of material. Rather, knowledge can be better summarized in wiki-based repositories built by the community, which can remain up to date and relevant continuously.
Although the current academic system does not reward individual scientists for investing into such endeavors, perhaps, as well-acknowledged masters, HÖLLDOBLER and WILSON could lead the way. What if the next version of The leafcutter ants would exist as a beautifully written community maintained online reference?

At the current time, there is no fame and money involved in Wiki's and too much of altruism required to run such a tool, that, without doubt will be the future; certainly not in Wilson's and Hölldobler's generation, may be not even in our, but the next generation of scientists.

[Photocredit: Thaler]